Law firm accused of allowing HOA ballot-rigging blames junior associate it assigned to the matter
A lawyer with a Nevada law firm argued in a malpractice trial on Tuesday that a first-year associate was to blame for allowing rigged elections at a homeowners association that was defrauded through the board’s award of construction contracts.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal covered the opening arguments in the suit by the Vistana homeowners association against Kummer Kaempfer Bonner Renshaw and Ferrario, which has since changed its name to Kaempfer Crowe.
Several HOAs were defrauded in the scheme to take over HOA boards and award lucrative construction contracts to a company owned by the scheme’s alleged mastermind, Leon Benzer, who is serving 15½ years in prison for his role. A lawyer not associated with Kummer Kaempfer, Nancy Quon, also was accused of participating in the scheme. She killed herself in 2012.
A lawyer for the Vistana HOA said in opening statements that the HOA board takeover scheme began before Kummer Kaempfer was hired, when Benzer and Quon used straw buyers to elect HOA board candidates of their choice.
After the Nevada Real Estate Division began receiving complaints from homeowners, it called in 2006 for an independent third party to oversee the next HOA election. Kummer Kaempfer was hired.
The firm assigned the matter to first-year associate Brian Jones, who later pleaded guilty to helping rig the board election. In his 2012 guilty plea, Jones admitted allowing Benzer associates to stuff ballots at his office, according to the Review-Journal account.
In opening arguments, a lawyer for the law firm, Mark Ferrario, pointed the finger of blame at Jones. “Mr. Jones abruptly left the firm,” Ferrario said. “He concealed this activity from those at the firm.”
Lawyers for Vistana and the law firm have stipulated to a $7 million cap on damages if it is found liable for malpractice. The law firm argues that the damages should be offset by a $6 million settlement that the HOA obtained from the Quon estate and about $700,000 recovered from other sources, leaving the firm liable, at most, for only $300,000.