Ledford White has been representing clients in real estate and probate transactions since 1976 with no record of disciplinary action from the State Bar of Texas, based on the state bar’s website. Since 2004, however, a former law partner and several other people have sued White for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty, among other claims. He has two judgments against him, another on appeal, and a couple of more cases still pending.
White denied all of the accusations on a recent afternoon in his southwest Fort Worth law firm and title company.
“I don’t have anything to hide,” the 67-year-old Denton native said.
I asked to take his photo. He declined.
Longtime acquaintance Michael Parks has known White for about 30 years and might have called him a friend at one time. No more. Parks grilled White during a recent deposition in one of the lawsuits. Parks has worked in Fort Worth for most of his 70 years, including a stint as a bail bondsman from 1970 to the mid-1980s. He’s a used car dealer now and co-owns with his son, Kyle Parks, the investment and financing group Optima Financial Inc. White has done legal work for the Parkses in the past.
White, Michael Parks alleges, used fraudulent methods to take a woman’s house, property, and life’s work.
White characterized Parks as a vengeful former friend and denied stealing anything from the woman.
Parks isn’t the only one pointing an accusatory finger at White and claiming he snookered them out of money or property. Former law partner Kent Davis sued White in 2011, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and fraud. Davis prevailed before a jury that awarded him more than $3 million in actual and exemplary damages. The judgment was reduced by the trial court because of cap limits on exemplary damages.
“Due to tort reform and imposition of punitive damage caps, the judgment was in the amount of $870,609.28,” said Brad Parker, an attorney for Davis.
White has been slow to pay, Parker said.
“We have undertaken collection efforts, some of which have been successful to some degree,” Parker said. “There remains in excess of $700,000 owed on the judgment, which includes post-judgment interest.”
After hearing the case, Fort Worth’s Second Court of Appeals sent its opinion to the State Bar of Texas’ disciplinary office reporting “ethical concerns” regarding White’s behavior during the events leading up to the Davis lawsuit. The complaint did not lead to any disciplinary action against White.
Parker County couple Gwendolyn and Troylynn Layton accused White of fraud in 2014 and won a $1.2 million judgment in 2015. The jury found that White committed direct common law fraud, statutory fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, theft, and negligence.
The case is on appeal.
In 2015, a district court judge granted a motion from Kyle Parks to receive a $300,000 commission from White. Kyle Parks had sued White, accusing him of withholding the commission. White has not paid any money toward the judgment, Michael Parks said.
That same year, Fort Worth widow Judith Heath sued White and Fort Worth resident William Long, alleging they sold an expensive gun collection belonging to her dead husband, Donald Heath, without her knowledge or consent. In the suit, Heath said that White had “served as her attorney concerning business, estate, and financial matters for many years.” The will called for the guns to be sold and put into income-producing stock to give Judith monthly stipends, she said in the lawsuit. Heath’s lawsuit claims that, with White’s assistance, Long, the estate’s executor, delayed filing an inventory for almost a year by filing for three extensions. In the meantime, Long and White, Heath alleged, sold the guns and used the money to buy “risky stock that lost value” without her knowledge, she claims in her lawsuit.
In her lawsuit, which has yet to go to trial, Heath alleges breach of fiduciary duty and fraud by nondisclosure against Long and White.
And in 2008, Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America sued White while seeking money that had gone into his bank account. Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children claimed that the money belonged to them. Based on the lawsuit, one of White’s clients, Michael Walters, was receiving money from a trust he had set up for himself in 2002 as executor of his dead mother’s estate. In the event of Michael Walters’ death, the money was slated to go to the children’s hospital. White worked as an attorney for the Walters family.
Two days after Michael Walters died on July 21, 2007, Allianz Life Insurance officials, based on Allianz’ lawsuit, received “an unsigned beneficiary change request back-dated as June 25, 2007, asking that the beneficiary of the annuity be changed” to White. In the suit, Allianz further alleges two of the annuity’s monthly payments made their way to White’s bank account. Allianz sued White, claiming breach of fiduciary duty to establish the hospital as beneficiary. The annuity was expected to pay out $6,006 for 55 months, or about $330,000.
The outcome of the lawsuit was that White had to repay the $12,000 he had received from the trust.
Michael Parks said the Allianz lawsuit speaks volumes.
“How do you justify in your conscience trying to beat a charity hospital that furnishes prosthetics to little kids who don’t have arms and legs?” Parks recently told me in an interview at the Fort Worth Weekly offices.
The situations in all those cases are unique, although a common thread is that the plaintiffs felt they were deprived of something they were owed. Fraud cases often involve theft with a handshake and a smile.
White believes all of his accusers are lying. The juries got it wrong, too, he said.
One of the lawsuits currently aimed at White involves Cleburne resident Diana Clark, who has accused White and Crowley real estate investor Alton Isbell of fraud. Clark said she lost her house and property near Joshua in 2008.
“I was devastated over it,” Clark said.
Bulls-eyes are stacking up on White’s back, but he’s hard to knock down. In conversation, he is relaxed and soft spoken. The arrows to his reputation sting.
“Obviously, it bothers me,” he said. “But what do I do about it?”
Parks also notified the State Bar of Texas. In a letter postmarked Oct. 17, 2014, he outlined what he considered White’s many ethical lapses. Texas’ state bar, one of the largest associations of its kind in the country, took no disciplinary action.
“At the end of the day, they said there was nothing there,” White said. “I was pleased.”
Parks was incredulous that an association that promotes high standards of ethical conduct would allow one of its members to go undisciplined despite the legal situations that White has faced in recent years.
“I don’t think you can get disbarred in Texas,” Parks said.
Texas’ state bar has 96,000 member lawyers. On average, the group has disbarred about 30 attorneys a year –– .03 percent –– since 2012.
White said greed rather than justice motivates his accusers.
Parks laughed upon hearing White’s denials of wrongdoing.
“I challenge Ledford White to a polygraph exam,” Parks said. “If he passes one, I’ll pay off his judgments. If he doesn’t pass, he turns in his [attorney’s] license.”