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BrundleFly

"I'm suing you for telling other people about my publicly available court records"

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I am on a condo Board of Directors. Two months ago, our Vice President pressured all of us to vote to hire a new lawyer to handle a court case for our condo. We were only given three hours to decide because we purportedly "had to file court papers by 5:00 pm" and had to do this over email. We voted yes, and the lawyer was hired. 

 

Last week, while looking through publicly available online court records at the official Maryland Case Search website, another Board member and I discovered that our Vice President had used this lawyer for four different personal lawsuits in the recent past. He did not disclose this to us before the vote.

 

I called one other Board member and told her what I found. My friend on the Board told a second Board member about it and then talked with the Vice President over the phone and confronted him. The V.P. became enraged and threatened to sue my friend for defamation and misuse of public records. 

 

I'm 99% sure this is B.S., but I'd like to be sure. My friend won't admit it, but I think he's shaken up by the threat. 

 

We haven't gone to the police or a lawyer. The only people we've told about this so far have been other Board members. We're concerned because the V.P. basically tricked us into hiring his friend. 

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It's not defamation and it's not a misuse of public records to advise other that a person has used particular lawyer.  You need to check the bylaws of the condo.  As a board member, the VP has a fiduciary duty to the association and generally would be obligated to disclose his relationship with the attorney AND very possibly would be required to recuse himself from any deliberation or vote regarding whether to hire or retain that attorney.  Consult counsel.

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Not much of a "trick" given what you have to say on another board about the dysfunction of the board.

 

Your subject line says "I'm suing you ..." and yet you mention no actual lawsuit.  There'd be an obvious reason why one hasn't been filed.  Sounds like the condo owners need to address ousting people from office.  If you are easily manipulated (you said "pressured"), then it sounds like all of the board members should resign, but that's neither here nor there.

 

The mention of police is befuddling.  We can't know why your friend is shaken up over threat of a lawsuit.  They presumably know what defamation is ... and that public records are not the same as hacking into his computer, finding child porn, and telling folks about it.  :)  Anyone can sue anyone else for anything, but knuckling under to stupid threats even if carried out is silly.  Don't negotiate with terrorists and all that. While you should have done due diligence before voting, better late than never. 

 

All that said, the lawyer having represented the dolt in personal lawsuits doesn't tell me anything.  You know more about this person than I do, and whether you should know better than to take his word when he says it's raining when he's peeing on your shoe.  If by-laws explicitly say that someone's obligated to disclose having personally used, say, a given pest control company before asking the board to vote on hiring that company to do X for the condominium, ok.  If he's not allowed to vote in such a scenario, then I presume you'll hold him to account if his vote was included.

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Not much of a "trick" given what you have to say on another board about the dysfunction of the board.

 

Your subject line says "I'm suing you ..." and yet you mention no actual lawsuit.  There'd be an obvious reason why one hasn't been filed.  Sounds like the condo owners need to address ousting people from office.  If you are easily manipulated (you said "pressured"), then it sounds like all of the board members should resign, but that's neither here nor there.

 

The mention of police is befuddling.  We can't know why your friend is shaken up over threat of a lawsuit.  They presumably know what defamation is ... and that public records are not the same as hacking into his computer, finding child porn, and telling folks about it.  :)  Anyone can sue anyone else for anything, but knuckling under to stupid threats even if carried out is silly.  Don't negotiate with terrorists and all that. While you should have done due diligence before voting, better late than never. 

 

All that said, the lawyer having represented the dolt in personal lawsuits doesn't tell me anything.  You know more about this person than I do, and whether you should know better than to take his word when he says it's raining when he's peeing on your shoe.  If by-laws explicitly say that someone's obligated to disclose having personally used, say, a given pest control company before asking the board to vote on hiring that company to do X for the condominium, ok.  If he's not allowed to vote in such a scenario, then I presume you'll hold him to account if his vote was included.

Fallen,

 

This is my first term on the Board, and I've never done this before or known any of my fellow Board members before joining. So no, I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of the applicable laws or a good sense of other Board members' characters and motivations yet. However, problems we've had over the last few months have impelled me to do a lot of research and to start asking a lot of questions. I'm getting there. 

 

Believe me, having us all resign at once would be an attractive option and a relief, but that's not going to happen, and after getting some sense of how the President and V.P. operate, I feel I owe it to myself and to the whole community to stay on the Board so long as they're there to keep tabs on them. 

 

Also, if all nine of us quit tomorrow, we'd be lucky to have even four new residents step up to fill our seats within a couple months. People in the building really are that disengaged. It's frustrating. Everyone complains about how much the building sucks and how much the Board sucks, but no one is willing to step up to make a difference themselves. 

 

This is how we were pressured: One day, our President sent out a mass email to the Board saying that we needed to hire a new lawyer to handle a court case for us, and that we had to decide by 5:00 that day in order to make a court filing deadline. That gave us less than three hours to think it through. We were only presented with one possible lawyer to hire, so it was an up or down vote for just this guy, with the implication being if we didn't vote to hire him, we would have some kind of disaster in court. The President assured us that our V.P. had done a huge amount of research on different lawyers and that this was the best guy. The V.P. also sent out several emails to the group advocating for his pick. At no point did the V.P. disclose that this guy was also his personal lawyer and had handled four lawsuits for him in the last few years. 

 

The rest of us trusted them and didn't have the time to do background research. We voted "Yes" by 5:00 pm and the guy was hired. 

 

We already had two other law firms contracting with us for legal services, but the President and V.P. said we needed Guy #3 because he was even cheaper and better. 

 

I'll have to read through the Bylaws again to see if there's anything governing conflicts of interest like this. But aren't we already subject to corporate laws and the provisions governing conflicts of interest on the Board? My condo building is a registered corporation in Maryland. 

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The V.P. became enraged and threatened to sue my friend for defamation and misuse of public records.

 

That's just plain silly (among other things, "misuse of public records" isn't a recognized civil cause of action).

 

 

 

I'm 99% sure this is B.S., but I'd like to be sure.

 

It's BS.  Obviously, however, anyone can sue anyone for anything, and being sued can result in expensive legal fees even where the lawsuit is frivolous.

 

 

 

We haven't gone to the police or a lawyer. 

 

The police?  Nothing you mentioned would warrant police involvement or relates in any way to any crime.

 

I guess my only question is why it matters to you that the lawyer in question also represented the VP.  I don't disagree that the relationship should have been disclosed, but so what?  Are you unhappy with the legal services that the lawyer has rendered?

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I guess my only question is why it matters to you that the lawyer in question also represented the VP.  I don't disagree that the relationship should have been disclosed, but so what?  Are you unhappy with the legal services that the lawyer has rendered?

 

What I've said so far is just the tip of the iceberg. 

 

After the Board did the private email vote to hire this lawyer, we never told the residents living in the building about it. I'm not a lawyer (hence the reason I'm asking questions on this forum), but from reading through the law myself, I think there's a legal requirement that we announce any such votes we do between meetings at the next normal Board meeting where the residents are present in the audience. I think we're also required to make an official record of between-meeting votes in the Minutes of the next official Board meeting. We never did that. In fact, two Board meetings have elapsed since this email vote, and no mention of this lawyer's hiring has been made in spite of the fact that two Board members have told the President they have to do that.

 

Additionally, the President and Office Manager refused my email request to see a copy of the signed contract we have with this lawyer. Reading through the Maryland Condo Act and our Bylaws, I'm 95% sure I'm entitled to see it upon request and they're breaking the law. Their secrecy has me convinced that something is amiss. 

 

I'm also concerned because, according to our monthly accounting records for March, we paid this lawyer an amount of money that doesn't make sense given the hourly rate we all agreed to in the email vote. Probably the main reason I want to see the contract is to make sure he is getting paid what the Board actually agreed to pay him when we did the vote. 

 

Finally, while re-reading the email chain where we did the vote, I noticed that there were four possible irregularities. The biggest problem was that some of us voted to hire the lawyer just to handle one court case (the one that had the 5:00 pm deadline that day), while other people voted to hire him as general counsel, meaning he was unrestricted in the number of cases he could handle for us. Apparently, no one noticed the difference, and at the end, our President declared that the vote to hire him had been "unanimous." According to publicly available records, I now see he is handling TWO different cases for us, so we've retained him as general counsel.  

 

The V.P.'s whole basis for advocating for the hire of this lawyer was that he was cheaper than the other two lawyers we already have working for us. I called one of them and it turned out there was only a $15 difference in hourly rates. 

 

I'm not a lawyer and everything right now is being filtered through my amateur readings of Maryland law and our Bylaws, but it looks to me that the Board broke several laws and internal procedures to hire a contractor who was friends with the second-highest ranking Board member, and now is resisting any attempt to make even the most basic information about this contractor's hiring known to the average people who are paying the bills in our condo building. 

 

There was another incident two months ago where our President and V.P. blindsided us with another piece of legislation that turned out to be illegal. I'm wising up to this. 

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