- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A Kalispell attorney put a lien on a client’s property for nonpayment of fees, pursued foreclosure and then anonymously bought the property for well below market value at a sheriff’s auction, the state’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel said.

The office filed seven counts of professional misconduct against David Tennant, alleging Tennant continued to represent his client in a divorce case even after filing the lien in February 2012, creating a conflict of interest.

Tennant told The Associated Press on Tuesday he hadn’t represented the man for two years before he sought foreclosure on the property and that his contract with the man included provisions for collection efforts.

The charges allege Tennant filed a lien for $24,000 against two residential lots near Columbia Falls the man received in the divorce case. He illegally added to the lien $2,300 in fees the client owed him from an earlier case, the office said. He then billed his client $3,200 for attorney fees incurred while he tried to collect his fees in the divorce case.

The foreclosure suit ended in May 2013 with a $34,000 judgment against Tennant’s client.

The Office of Disciplinary Council filed the misconduct counts Friday. It said Tennant used inside information about his client’s financial circumstances and created a limited liability corporation to buy his client’s property for $34,000 in September 2013. The two lots were put on the market for $80,000 each. If they sell, the disciplinary council claims Tennant will have charged an excessive fee in addition to those already levied against the client.

The ODC alleges Tennant didn’t withdraw as the man’s client until July 2015 and didn’t inform the man that he might want to seek independent legal counsel with regard to the property sale.

Tennant’s client filed an ethics grievance in September 2015.

In his response, Tennant didn’t indicate his LLC bought the property and instead referred to the buyer as “the purchaser.” He said his firm incurred another $1,400 in fees dealing with his client’s “recent illogical emails and this latest complaint filed with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel,” and suggested the property wasn’t worth much more than $34,000.

However, the complaint said Tennant knew the listing price of the property.

“The foreclosed property is on the market,” Tennant said in an email to the AP on Tuesday. “If the previous owner wants them back, all he needs to do is contact me (and) arrange to pay what he owed.”

Tennant said that total includes his attorney’s fees, nearly $7,000 paid to his client’s ex-wife for child support after she also filed a lien on the property, along with about $7,600 in past and current property taxes.

Tennant has 20 days after being served with the complaint to file a response. A formal hearing will then be scheduled before the Commission on Practice’s adjudicatory panel, which will recommend any disciplinary action it believes is warranted.

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