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Texas SC upholds part of lawsuit filed by church alleging lawyer took millions

By Laura Halleman | Apr 3, 2017

Law money 04

AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) - The Texas Supreme Court has upheld and reversed part of a lawsuit involving millions of dollars allegedly being taken from the First United Pentecostal Church of Beaumont by Leigh Parker, an attorney with Lamb Law Firm PC, after the church entrusted the money to the firm for safekeeping.

At the request of the church, Kip Lamb, the firm's owner, deposited money into a trust account. Less than two weeks later, $750,000 was transferred from the trust account to a new account opened and only accessible by Lamb.

In just over a year, the church’s money was gone. When Parker, who represented the church, told the church its money had been spent, the church sued the firm, Lamb and Parker. The trial court granted summary judgment to Parker and an appeals court affirmed.

According to court documents, "in the fall of 2007, Lonnie Treadway, pastor and chief executive manager of the First Pentecostal Church of Beaumont, hired the Lamb Law Firm, P.C. to defend Treadway and the church in a sexual harassment lawsuit."

At the time, Parker said he worked for the firm on a contractual basis. Both Lamb and Parker defended the church in the sexual harassment lawsuit.

About the same time, in 2008, the church settled an insurance claim following Hurricane Rita. The church’s part of the settlement was about $1.1 million.

Treadway and Lamb agreed the firm would hold the money so it would not be targeted by plaintiffs in the sexual harassment lawsuit.

According to court documents,"the funds were deposited in the firm’s trust account on April 14, 2008. On April 25, $750,000 was electronically transferred from the trust account into another account in Lamb’s name. By the end of September 2009, $1.2 million had been transferred from the trust account to either personal accounts of Lamb or the firm operating account. The money was spent either on Lamb’s personal expenses or on firm expenses."

Parker stated in court documents he did not know the church's money had been transferred by Lamb until Lamb told him in 2010.

Lamb later was sentenced to 15 years in prison for embezzlement and fraud in the matter.

In its complaint, the church alleged Parker “was associated with, or worked for, the firm; he was part of a joint venture with Lamb and the firm; Parker knowingly participated in Lamb’s breach of fiduciary duty; Parker made intentional misrepresentations to the church to cover up the fact that the money was gone; and he was jointly and severally liable for the church’s damages.”

The lower court found there was no evidence to support the church's claim there was an express or implied agreement by Parker to be part of a joint venture with Lamb for the purpose of stealing the church’s money.

Therefore, the Supreme Court found that, “the judgment of the court of appeals on the church’s claims for civil conspiracy, aiding and abetting, and joint venture. We reverse and remand to the trial court the church’s claim that it is entitled to equitable remedies as to Parker for breach of fiduciary duties he owed to the church.”

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