Rock Hill residential real estate lawyer arrested

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Thankfully, it has been ten years or more since we’ve heard word “defalcation” used in connection with a South Carolina real estate lawyer. Sadly, we have to use that word in 2019 because a Rock Hill lawyer was arrested on September 13 after funds allegedly went missing from a residential closing. That lawyer, Thomas Givens, was suspended by the South Carolina Supreme Court on September 25.

The closing took place on July 15, but the $166,000 mortgage payoff was never made. Two months later, Givens was arrested and charged with breach of trust over $10,000. The arrest warrant reads that Givens failed to make the mortgage payoff and does not have the funds.

We usually do not experience defalcations when the economy is good. With the economic downturn that began in 2007, we learned the difficult lesson that attorneys who are prone to dip into their trust accounts often manage to keep the balls in the air as long as closings continue to occur. They typically steal from one closing to fund another. They rob Peter to pay Paul.

Like a game of musical chairs, when the music (and closings) stop, bad actor attorneys no longer have closings to provide funds for prior transgressions, and the thefts come to light.

It is a very sad commentary, and one I hoped not to see again.

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Dirt Lawyers Will Like This Mortgage Satisfaction Case

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S.C. Supreme Court holds equity lines are subject to the timely satisfaction statute.

In an opinion written by Justice Beatty, our Supreme Court held on August 5 that open-ended mortgages are satisfied in the same manner as conventional mortgages and under the same statutory requirement for timely satisfaction by lenders.

Regions Bank v. Strawn involved a mortgage foreclosure against Robert and Nancy Borchers. The Borchers counterclaimed seeking to recover from Regions Bank under §§29-3-310 and 29-3-320 of the South Carolina Code based on the bank’s failure to satisfy the mortgage within the three-month time period required.

mortgage jengaThe home had been purchased from Cammie Strawn, who had taken title from her then-husband, Richard Strawn. Mr. Strawn had previously obtained the home equity line of credit. At the time of the Borchers’ closing, the balance of the mortgage was $32,240.42. Immediately after the closing, the Borchers’ attorney, James Belk, had an employee deliver a payoff check and a mortgage satisfaction transmittal letter to Regions Bank. The check had the words “Payoff of first mortgage” typed on it.

Instead of satisfying the mortgage, the bank applied the check to the balance, bringing it to zero, and provided Richard Strawn with new checks even though he had not owned the home for more than two years. Mr. Strawn spent more than $72,000 on the equity line.

When Regions Bank attempted to collect on Mr. Strawn’s debt by foreclosing on the Borchers’ home, the Borchers answered, counterclaimed and moved for summary judgment. The bank argued that a revolving line of credit should be handled differently than conventional mortgages, and this particular mortgage could not be satisfied without instructions from Mr. Strawn.

The trial court and Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Borchers. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Regions Bank made two basic arguments: (1) open ended mortgages are an exception to the statutory satisfaction requirement because only the original borrower is authorized to request a satisfaction; and (2) the Borchers could not assert a violation of the mortgage satisfaction statutes because their attorney had the authority to satisfy the mortgage pursuant to the attorney satisfaction statute (§29-3-330).

The Court affirmed and held that the first argument failed because the mortgage itself contemplated that the property may be sold and specifically stated that it would be binding on the mortgagor’s successors and assigns. Also, the court stated that anyone with an interest in mortgaged property is allowed to request a satisfaction upon payment, and there is no exception for equity lines of credit.

Sale of a house. Object over whiteAs to the argument that the Borchers’ attorney could have satisfied the mortgage, the Court stated simply that this argument is without merit because the statutory framework does not exempt a mortgage holder of an equity line from the penalty provisions for failing to satisfy a mortgage within the required time frame.

This is a good opinion for South Carolina closing lawyers!