Two former clients of disbarred Hendersonville attorney Andy Allman may finally get their day in civil court after a special judge recently denied a motion to dismiss the cases.
Linda Cela of Clarksville and Erbit Navarro-Teran of Lebanon both filed complaints in Sumner County General Sessions Court against Allman nearly three years ago.
The two say they were shocked and frustrated to learn recently that Allman had moved to dismiss the cases for lack of prosecution when they had been waiting for years for the court to appoint a special judge to hear the cases.
Cela, who filed her complaint on Dec. 30, 2016, hired Allman in 2014 to represent her in an employment discrimination case.
“Allman took my money and lied to me about my case,” according to the complaint. “Allman refused to answer my calls and emails and didn’t provide me with legal service that I paid him for.”
Cela is asking the court to award her $4,500 she says she paid Allman for a retainer and $20,000 for the loss of her case due to negligence.
Navarro-Teran, who filed his complaint Feb. 6, 2017, is also asking for the recovery of a $4,500 retainer fee for what he says was a breach of contract. He too says he hired Allman in 2014.
Attorney also faces criminal prosecution
Allman, 51, was temporarily suspended by the Supreme Court of Tennessee’s Board of Professional Responsibility in September 2016 after complaints of misconduct and the misappropriation of funds. He has since been disbarred after nearly 200 complaints were filed against him. Allman also faces criminal theft charges in Davidson and Sumner counties. Trials in both of those counties are scheduled in 2020.
After Allman’s law license was suspended in 2016, Sumner County Chancery Court Judge Louis Oliver ordered his firm, Andy Allman and Associates, into receivership in December of that year.
Oliver also issued a 90-day stay of any legal action against Allman, including civil cases brought by Cela, Navarro-Teran and others. Those who had filed civil action against Allman were also told that Sumner County judges had recused themselves and that a special judge from another county would have to hear the cases.
However, once the stay was lifted, neither Cela nor Navarro-Teran were notified, and a special judge never heard their cases.
In April, Allman’s attorney, Jim Edwards, filed motions to dismiss the cases for lack of prosecution.
That motion ended up in General Sessions Judge Mike Carter’s court on May 2.
“Both myself and Judge Hunter previously recused ourselves in the Andy Allman cases so I don’t know how I can enter a dismissal of these actions when I have previously dismissed myself from the case,” said Carter.
Edwards said he wasn’t aware of the recusals.
Carter said he has known Allman for a number of years and that it would be unfair for him to preside over the cases. He said he thought two special judges had already been called to hear the cases.
Edwards said the cases need to be heard.
“I don’t disagree with you at all,” said Carter. “I noticed that none of the plaintiffs in these cases even showed up today. I know you sent a copy of your motion to the last known address. I know you did.”
“Absolutely,” said Edwards.
Both Cela and Navarro-Teran said they were never notified of the May 2 hearing.
‘Fallen through the cracks’
In an interview on May 9, Circuit Court Clerk Kathryn Strong said that a special judge had been assigned to some of Allman’s civil cases but for some reason they were never heard.
Typically, Strong noted, a plaintiff or plaintiff’s attorney will call to put the case on a docket.
Both Cela and Navarro-Teran, who are representing themselves, said they called for months asking what the status of their cases were.
Strong says it looks like a judge was assigned, but then the stay went into effect. Once it was lifted, the cases were never re-set. Since the stay came out of chancery court, Strong wonders if general sessions court was ever notified that the stay was lifted.
“It’s just a unique situation that’s not common,” said Strong.
“Nobody apparently was tracking this and if the litigants aren’t calling… ultimately it’s their responsibility to set their case. It looks like it’s just fallen through the cracks.”
Cases to be heard in January
On May 7, Smith County Judge Michael Collins was assigned to hear the two cases. A hearing was held Nov. 8 on Allman’s motion to dismiss the cases.
“Ultimately the question is.. you’re asking for a motion to dismiss because there hasn’t been any movement on the case which is understandable,” Collins said to Edwards.
Edwards agreed. Allman was not in court.
Collins asked Cela if she still wanted to prosecute the case.
“I would love to, yes sir,” she said.
Navarro-Teran said he wanted to pursue his case as well.
Collins denied Allman’s motion to dismiss and set both cases for 9 a.m. on Jan. 6.
Both Cela and Navarro-Teran said they are frustrated their cases seem to have fallen through the cracks.
“I don’t expect anything to come out of this,” Cela said. “It’s just I have to defend my money and I have to defend my rights whether a judge rules in my favor or not.”
“To date, of the 14 civil cases filed against [Allman] alleging theft, conversion, and professional negligence, seven have been dismissed and he is vigorously defending the remaining,” Edwards said in a written statement to the Hendersonville Standard in March. “…Mr. Allman maintains his innocence and is appreciative of the opportunity to further clear his name.”