A Washington County judge heard arguments Thursday on whether to grant an injunction requested by three trustees of a McMurray online realty company who claim they are being harmed by illegal policies and procedures being implemented by Washington County Recorder of Deeds Debbie Bardella.
The request follows a lawsuit filed Nov. 7 by Jan Ondra, George Ondra and Billy Jo Sanders, trustees for LotsofRealty.com LLC, that claims Bardella, who also serves as director of the county tax revenue department and tax claim bureau, is delaying the transfer of deeds by imposing additional requirements that are not required under state law through her position as recorder of deeds. The complaint specifically mentions properties purchased by the group at a tax sale in July.
According to the suit, Bardella has refused to file deeds granted to a trust that do not name an individual, execute a trust agreement or contain a concise property description.
The men also contend it is a conflict of interest for Bardella to hold all three positions and, as tax bureau director, she is required to sell property without regard to whether an individual trustee is named on a deed. However, for the purpose of the injunction request, the plaintiffs’ attorney, Herbert Terrell, confined the issue to the additional recorder of deeds requirements during a hearing before President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca.
“All we’re trying to do is stop the recorder from requiring additional requirements,” said Terrell.
Terrell presented the judge with two deeds held by his clients that were recently recorded in Westmoreland and Fayette counties without listing an individual trustee. He cited a 2012 Commonwealth Court case to support the agument Bardella’s requirements run contrary to statutory law.
“Her requirements are not unreasonable,” countered Tom Vreeland, one of the attorneys representing Bardella.
“Frankly, we don’t care what other counties do,” added Blane Black, solicitor for the recorder of deeds.
Vreeland argued Bardella’s practices are compliant not only with state law, but also local ordinances created by the county commissioners.
“It’s our interpretation of the law that we can require this information,” Black said outside of the courtroom. “A trust does not own property and cannot hold title to it. A trustee holds title for the trust.”
According to Black, if an individual trustee is not required to be named on a deed, then an unscrupulous person could get rid of a problem property by transferring it to someone else without their knowledge. Additionally, the tax assessment office can only levy a lien against a trustee, not a trust.
While reviewing several deeds at issue presented by Terrell, O’Dell Seneca pointed out that none of the entities, including one called JoGo Trust, listed on the documents was named in the lawsuit or the motion for injunctive relief.
Vreeland said the issue is not knowing who is responsible for the trusts. He argued proper ackowledgement should be presented for the deed to be recorded.
O’Dell Seneca will allow both sides to file memorandums by Tuesday further clarifying their positions before making a decision on the injunction request.
This is not the first run-in between Bardella and the trustees of LotsofRealty.com.
Last year, LotsofRealty.com had listed property at North Main and West Chestnut streets in downtown Washington for sale at auction on eBay. The property was listed as being owned by the Main Street Trust with the main trustee being Kim J. Gobert of Moscow, Russia. The property received bids, but the sale allegedly fell through when it was discovered there were more than $1.2 million in federal and state tax liens against the property. According to Bardella, the buyer would be liable for the liens.