Recorder of deeds, land owner testify in court dispute

March 5, 2013

A judge will have to decide if the Washington County recorder of deeds is singling out two men by refusing to record their deeds in which they list a trust as a property owner.

Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca again heard testimony in the case of Billy Joe Sanders and Jan Ondra, who purchased property at sheriff’s sales and through other transactions that the office of Recorder of Deeds Debbie Bardella rejected last month because no person was listed as a trustee.

Sanders’ attorney, Herbert Terrell, produced copies of deeds in which property owners were listed as 107-109 Gibson Trust, 356 Jefferson Trust and 356 Jefferson Avenue Trust.

The recorder’s office accepted a sheriff’s deed listing 35 East Hallam, Washington, as the owner.

“Why are you so resistant to having a trustee’s name disclosed on the deed?” Bardella’s attorney, Blane Black, asked Sanders.

He replied that it’s not required by law, an assertion that Bardella disputes.

The recorder of deeds office shares precise information with the county tax assessment and tax claim offices, and Black asked how someone could contact a trust for taxation purposes.

Sanders said he would look for the last-known address and noted that corporations aren’t required to name names.

“The IBM Co. doesn’t put the name of their CEO on a deed when they buy property,” he testified.

Attorney Thomas Vreeland, who is serving as co-counsel with Black, said corporations are legal entities that file documents with the Pennsylvania Department of State.

“A president can come and go, a secretary can come and go, but when corporations register with the state, at least you’ve got a place to start.”

When Bardella took the witness stand, she told the court, “A trust is a document and not an individual or a party. I cannot serve a piece of paper (on a trust).”

A side issue brought up in court is that the office of Sheriff Samuel Romano places on deeds sold at sheriff’s sales whatever the buyer, known in legal lingo as the “grantor,” requests.

“Isn’t your argument with the sheriff?” Terrell asked Bardella.

“I’ve had that discussion with the sheriff,” she replied.

This is not the first time the opponents have faced each other in court.

Terrell told the president judge, “We have a court order. We are asking that it be enforced.”

The judge took the matter under advisement.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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