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Ex-client accuses attorney of taking $152K awarded in lawsuit

Updated September 7, 2020 - 8:49 pm

Twenty-three years ago, businessman Bruce Familian bought a 5-acre desert lot in Las Vegas with grand plans to turn it into a profitable, 63,000-square-foot industrial park.

The owner of the Klondike Sunset Casino had no idea that its development would spark a protracted legal battle with Clark County that now has the State Bar of Nevada’s disciplinary board pushing to revoke the law license of Familian’s former attorney, Brian C. Padgett, 47, for misconduct.

Familian, 62, accused Padgett’s law firm of improperly accessing a $152,000 verdict that Familian won in a court case stemming from his land development. He said he hasn’t seen a dime of the money since.

“I don’t know what happened to it,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Records show Familian is not alone in accusing Padgett of misconduct. The Bar’s disciplinary board has sustained two complaints against Padgett for misconduct and is investigating another. Court records show Padgett’s Nevada marijuana company, CWNevada, has faced extensive litigation and state compliance violations in district court.

And then, on Aug. 27, Padgett was arrested by Las Vegas police, charged with writing $400,000 in bad checks.

Padgett’s lawyer, Garrett Ogata, did not return messages seeking comment for this story. Callers to Padgett’s law firm are unable to leave a message, and an email to Padgett was returned as undeliverable.

Padgett previously claimed in filings with the State Bar that at least one complaint was aimed at taking over his marijuana business by “damaging his standing in the practice of law.”

A good business plan

Familian bought the lot on West Teco Avenue at a county auction in 1997. His development plans went smoothly, and today, the property is filled with expansive commercial structures and warehouses.

He said legal problems only surfaced after completion, when Clark County sought access to a wastewater drainage channel on the land where the buildings stood.

“The building’s up, building’s done, everything is fine, and I get a call from the county, and they say they want to tap into that channel,” Familian said. “I said based on what? You have no easement … and they said, ‘We are doing it anyway.’”

The county carried out construction on Familian’s property, hooking into the wastewater channel to divert water. Familian sued in 2012, when he turned to the law firm of Padgett, who is described on his website as an experienced eminent domain attorney focused on “protecting the rights of private landowners faced with government property takings.”

The case went to a trial in November 2016 before District Court Judge Gloria Sturman. A jury awarded him $116,508 — far less than what Familian thought was due. He hired a new attorney to appeal the total as the county deposited the initial judgment amount, plus interest, of $151,599 with the court in November 2017.

Without Familian and his new attorney’s knowledge, though, Padgett’s law firm in June 2018 filed a motion in Sturman’s courtroom seeking immediate access to the judgment money, which Sturman granted. The motion claimed Familian had previously tried to access the judgment award and was denied.

“Total lie,” Familian said of the claim. “Absolutely, 100 percent, a lie.”

Padgett’s law firm also billed Familian for more than $69,000 in legal fees. In October 2018, when Sturman awarded Familian an additional $400,000 in legal fees for the case, Familian agreed to allow Padgett to deduct the bill amount from the legal fees awarded to him, even though he didn’t agree with the amount Padgett billed him.

But he never saw a dime of the initial judgment award.

“He took it all,” Familian said.

More complaints against Padgett

Familian filed complaints with the State Bar against both Padgett and Sturman. The complaint against the judge was rejected. Sturman declined comment on this story, referring a reporter to the public record in the case.

But the State Bar’s disciplinary board did take up the case against Padgett, as well as another bar complaint against Padgett filed by a man previously employed by Padgett’s marijuana company.

Padgett denied the allegations, but in both cases the State Bar panel found misconduct, recommending on July 30 a license suspension of five years. Then, Padgett would have to retake the bar exam if he wanted to practice law in Nevada again. The Nevada Supreme Court will eventually decide whether those recommendations will be implemented.

The State Bar confirmed Tuesday it had received an additional complaint about Padgett, alleging his firm botched an eminent domain case in Northern Nevada. That allegation remains under review.

At the same time that Padgett was representing Familian, he was the owner and chief executive officer of his licensed marijuana business CWNevada. The Review-Journal reported last year that the company was struggling to pay its bills, and in July, the Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board voted to strip more than a dozen licenses from the business plagued with accusations of fraud and unpaid taxes.

A criminal complaint filed in Las Vegas Justice Court after Padgett’s August arrest accused the lawyer of drawing and passing a check without sufficient funds with intent to defraud. Clark County prosecutor Michael Giles said in a recent Justice Court hearing that Padgett was arrested by Las Vegas police “in his vehicle in a McDonald’s parking lot in the middle of the night.”

The criminal complaint states Padgett wrote two checks — one for $350,000 and one for $50,000 — that bounced.

Arguing for bail, Ogata, Padgett’s defense attorney, described him as a lawyer and business owner who has extensive ties to the community.

“This actually is a crime I believe is involving many civil suits,” Ogata said. “This is a bad-check case. Not a violent crime. He’s not a threat to the community.”

Contact Glenn Puit by email at gpuit@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.

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