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Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012 09:06 pm

Too close for comfort

A client calls her former lawyer a fraudster

John Narmont, a Springfield lawyer under scrutiny by the state Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, has been sued by a former client who says that Narmont told her to sell land, then bought the property himself.

In a lawsuit filed Dec. 27 in Sangamon County Circuit Court, Carolyn Williams says that Narmont advised her to declare bankruptcy in 2003 to avoid paying monies pursuant to a court-ordered settlement in the estate of her late husband, John W. Harmon. Narmont also told Williams that she should sell 41 acres in Auburn, according to the lawsuit.

After advising Williams to sell the farmland, Narmont asked a bankruptcy judge to appoint an attorney to represent Williams in the real estate transaction because “some member of my family or other people that in some way I have represented may be bidders,” according to the lawsuit.

Nearly five months later, the Auburn land was sold in early 2004 for $150,000 to John and Karen Boxell, who conveyed all but 11 acres to Central Illinois Realty Company, according to the lawsuit.

John Narmont is the secretary and agent for the Central Illinois Realty Company; his wife, Sondra, is the firm’s president, according to the lawsuit and records at the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. Under terms of the deed that conveyed the remaining 30 acres of farmland to Narmont’s company, the transfer was exempt from taxation because less than $150 changed hands, according to the lawsuit, but John Boxell in an interview said that Narmont paid more than $150.

John and Karen Boxell are officers in the Illinois Quarter Horse Association, and the organization’s board has met at Narmont’s law office and his Auburn horse ranch, according to the association’s meeting minutes. John Boxell says that he has worked for Narmont, taking care of livestock owned by the attorney. And he insists that Narmont did nothing wrong.

John Boxell said that he had long been interested in the Williams property, but when he first inquired, Narmont told him that the land was tied up in legal cases that would take years to resolve. Boxell also said that Narmont refused to get involved in selling the land because it would be a conflict of interest.

“He said, ‘It’s a big mess, you don’t want to fool with it,’” Boxell recalls. “He said, ‘Under no circumstances will I be involved with it.’”

That eventually changed.

John Boxell says that after speaking with Narmont, he asked Scott Harmon, Williams’ son, if the land was for sale, and they eventually agreed on a price.

“I said ‘Would you have a problem with John (Narmont) doing the paperwork on it?’” Boxell recalls. “He said ‘I don’t have a problem with it.’ John drew up a real estate contract.”

The attorney appointed to represent Williams in the land sale played no role in the transaction, according to the lawsuit. After purchasing the land, Boxell says he asked Narmont, who owned adjoining property, if he would be interested in buying 30 acres that had drainage problems, and Narmont agreed.

“He stayed above board the whole time,” Boxell says. “I don’t think I did anything wrong. I sold a piece of ground that I didn’t want and couldn’t afford to fix. … If you buy a piece of property, it should be yours to do with as you want.”

A secretary in Narmont’s office referred questions to Boxell. Scott Harmon declined to say whether he believed Narmont had done anything wrong.

Boxell says he believes that Narmont spent at least $150,000 to fix drainage problems on the 30 acres. In 2005, Central Illinois Realty Company obtained a $663,000 mortgage on the property that Williams had sold the previous year for $150,000, according to Williams’ lawsuit.

Narmont falsely told Williams that the land had to be sold quickly, according to the lawsuit. Further, Williams claims, Narmont tried to conceal the fact that he was buying the bulk of real estate that was worth more than four times what she received.

“But for the fraud and deceit perpetrated by John Narmont, Carolyn Williams would have received full value for the property,” Ripplinger writes in the lawsuit.

Ripplinger and Boxell said that the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission has received a complaint, but the status of the investigation isn’t clear. The ARDC won’t confirm or deny the existence of an investigation unless the commission seeks discipline. Boxell said that investigators interviewed him last spring.

Narmont is already in ARDC crosshairs for, among other things, allegedly making false statements to a federal bankruptcy judge, then blaming misstatements on overwork, medication and vertigo. The ARDC last year recommended that his law license be suspended for a year, but he remains free to practice law pending an appeal.

In 1994, Narmont agreed to a censure by the state Supreme Court after a business partner committed suicide and left a note and tape recording that blamed Narmont for driving him to the grave.  The censure came after the note and tape were ruled inadmissible in disciplinary proceedings because they were hearsay – being deceased, Narmont’s accuser could not be cross-examined.

Narmont, who was a beneficiary in the partner’s will that Narmont wrote, admitted that he had not adequately explained that a lawyer preparing a will in which the lawyer stands to inherit something constitutes a conflict of interest.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.
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