Former city attorney faces censure for buying client’s property

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Kalispell attorney faces censure for buying the property of two clients after filing liens for failure to pay attorney’s fees

By AMY BETH HANSON

Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Kalispell attorney faces censure for buying the properties of two clients after filing liens for failure to pay attorney’s fees.

David G. Tennant must appear before the Montana Supreme Court on April 18 for a public censure over his debt collection practices.

The court on Tuesday also ordered him to return the title to one of two residential lots that he purchased at a Flathead County sheriff’s sale to his former client, John Ray, along with any money he makes from the sale of the other lot that exceeds the $34,000 default judgment.

The lots near Columbia Falls were initially priced at $80,000 each and are now on the market for $65,000 each, court records said.

Richard and Debbie Harshman were able to redeem their property near Hungry Horse by paying an $8,100 judgment, plus interest.

Ray and the Harshmans filed complaints with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel arguing that Tennant’s law firm assigned Ray’s judgment to a limited liability company half owned by Tennant and assigned the Harshman judgment to a collection agency owned by Tennant. The Tennant-owned companies purchased the properties at auction.

The Commission on Practice found that Tennant violated provisions of the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct by representing his law firm in collecting the fees while acquiring an ownership interest in a client’s property.

The ODC also argued, and the Supreme Court agreed, that Tennant acted unethically in collecting the judgment from the Harshmans because he learned of the existence of the couple’s property as part of his representation of them as they sought to evict a tenant.

The commission recommended and the Supreme Court agreed that in the future Tennant must provide clients and former clients with copies of any attorney’s liens filed against them by him or his firm and for the next three years he must notify the ODC when he takes such action.

The Supreme Court also ordered Tennant to pay about $2,200 for the cost of the proceedings.

The ODC had recommended Tennant’s law license be suspended for seven months.

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