TRAVERSE CITY — A jury ruled a local attorney committed fraud and malpractice in a case of a business deal gone bad.
A former client sued Clarence Gomery, of Gomery and Associates, in 13th Circuit Court. A jury listened to six days of acrimonious details of a failed business partnership between Gomery and Fred Topous Jr.
"I understand the jury’s decision that I’m an attorney and I believe they held me up to a higher standard and I accept that," Gomery said. "I believe in this case, they got the facts wrong."
Gomery approached Topous in 2009 to purchase the former Mitchell Creek Golf Course property off 3 Mile Road. Topous paid $510,000 and Gomery formed the limited liability company T&G Real Estate Development.
Topous' attorney, Christopher Cooke, said an operating agreement was manipulated to give Gomery 50 percent ownership and 50 percent interest in the property though Gomery made no monetary investment.
Cooke argued Topous, a registered sex offender who won $57 million from the state lottery in 2008, was "clearly taken advantage of." Gomery was Topous' attorney when they entered the business transaction, Cooke said, a fact Gomery disputed. The jury determined Gomery violated rules of professional conduct by entering into a business partnership with a client.
"The strongest part of my case was really the horrible abuse of the defendant's ethical responsibility to his client and I think that rang true with the jury," Cooke said.
Gomery is a former Leelanau County prosecutor and Grand Traverse County assistant prosecutor. Cooke said he will file a grievance against him with the state Attorney Grievance Commission.
Gomery's attorney, Laura Garneau, in court said Topous knew what he was paying for and willingly signed up to be the "money man" in a property deal. Cooke said it took two years for Gomery to produce an operating agreement after numerous requests, but Gomery said witness testimony showed Topous was presented the agreement at signing.
Topous secretly recorded a conversation with Gomery in 2011, during which they discussed Gomery's request of $25,000 from Topous to resolve a lawsuit against his brother. Gomery told Topous he gave another lawyer a $300,000 personal injury case in exchange for dropping the claim. He requested Topous pay him in cash to avoid being taxed, the recording revealed.
The would-be trade with the other attorney never occurred, Gomery said.
"He set me up and I said some very stupid and embarrassing things that I very much regret," Gomery said. "I was owed that money on behalf of Mr. Topous for legal services and friends and family legal services."
The jury determined Topous is the sole owner of the Mitchell Creek property and he will receive $25,000. Gomery will receive $13,000 for improvements made to the property.