Court action

April 8, 2021: Shavano Park Mayor Bob Werner sued for legal malpractice in real estate deal allegedly defrauding wealthy, legally-incapacitated elder

San Antonio law firm Langley & Banack sued after southwestern Texas ranch deal goes awry


Lawrence “Larry” Hancock, an heir to the founder of a fabric store chain, liked to invest in Texas ranches with the intent of selling them for a profit.

Hancock’s acquisitions included a 40,000-acre ranch in the Laredo area, as well as 18,000 acres split between two ranches in Val Verde and Kinney counties in southwestern Texas in 2006.

Hancock lived on the larger of the two ranches he bought in 2006 — the 12,572-acre Weston Ranch, where he hunted white-tail deer and other game and worked on the property.

Hancock, 71, no longer roams the ranch. He has dementia and resides in an assisted-living facility in Tupelo, Miss.

The Weston Ranch has been sold, disposed under duress to avoid a foreclosure by the company his father started and that held a note on the property.

Fights over various Weston Ranch transactions erupted in Mississippi and San Antonio courts, including a couple that pitted McMahan — as her father’s court-appointed conservator, watching over his estate — against various parties, including the family company and Hancock’s three sisters.

Last month, McMahan sued San Antonio’s largest law firm, Langley & Banack, for more than $27 million, accusing it of legal malpractice and defrauding Hancock, a longtime client, in connection with the ranch transactions….

Shane Langston, a Jackson, Miss., lawyer for McMahan, called it “the most egregious” legal malpractice case he’s ever seen.

Langley & Banack hasn’t filed a response to the complaint yet, but San Antonio lawyer Henry Gonzalez, who is defending the firm, disputed McMahan’s allegations….

The [2018] agreement shows Petry, Kimble and Hancock [lawyers at Langley & Banack] were represented in the transaction [with incapacitated Larry Hancock] by Langley & Banack lawyers J. Patrick Rouse and Robert Werner, who also are being sued by McMahan.

Robert Valdez, Rouse’s lawyer, said, “All of the allegations in the petition are in dispute.”

Richard Espey, Werner’s attorney, denied the allegations.

“I assure you that the allegations are baseless and likely legally slanderous,” Espey said in an email. “Anyone who knows Bob and the degree to which he has served his community, Church and others will know that something smells. It is a shame that such a good person can be defamed solely for the purpose of getting a payday.”

Werner, Shavano Park’s mayor, is no longer with Langley & Banack….

Dementia symptoms

In 2015, Hancock started showing symptoms of dementia, his daughter says. The “disease robbed Larry of his mental faculties and comprehension.” Langley & Banack’s lawyers “were fully aware of his condition,” she adds in the complaint.

McMahan, though, wasn’t appointed Hancock’s temporary conservator by a court until 2018. She became permanent conservator in late 2019.

Also, in 2015, Hancock’s mother died at age 93.

The partnerships that bought the Weston Ranch had their first payment coming due in 2017. No sale of the land, or the water or mineral rights, had occurred. As a result, the partnerships were facing a default under the deal, McMahan says in her suit.

So the defendants offered to give up Hancock’s share of his mother’s inheritance, about $7.5 million, McMahan alleges in her suit, even though she says it was the partnerships that owed the money.

A confidential settlement ultimately was reached in 2016. The defendants’ “influence” over Hancock resulted in him owing about $15 million in debt that previously did not exist, his daughter says.

“Any lawyer who would advise his client, especially when mentally incompetent, to sign a document obligating his client to owe approximately $15 million that he did not owe amounts to the worst example of legal negligence, and breach of fiduciary duty, imaginable,” McMahan alleges.

The purpose was to bail out the partnerships from their obligations to pay $22.5 million under the terms of the 2013 agreement, she adds.

Taken twice?

By 2018, McMahan says, her father’s health was deteriorating rapidly. He was confused, disoriented and suffering from hallucinations. He was admitted in April 2018 to a mental health ward in Baptist Memorial Hospital in Booneville, Miss.

McMahan took Hancock from his Texas home “under threat of force and against his will” and “removed” him to Mississippi, L.D. Hancock Co. and his three sisters alleged in an October court filing in San Antonio.

Petry had called McMahan with concerns about Hancock, saying the sheriff had to be called to the ranch house because “he thought there were a bunch of (people) in there with guns drawn trying to kill him,” Greer said. No one was at the ranch when the sheriff arrived, however.

The event led McMahan, her husband and Greer to go to Texas to take Hancock back to Mississippi where he could get medical treatment.

Hancock stayed at McMahan’s home following his release from the hospital. That is, she alleges, until Petry and Langley & Banack paid a woman to “secretly travel to Mississippi and physically take Larry to Texas without his doctor’s or the family’s knowledge or consent.” She said it happened Father’s Day weekend when she was not at home.

An amended lawsuit McMahan filed March 19 alleges Ronda Hargrove — who had leased Weston Ranch land from Hancock — was the person who took him to Texas.

“That is an absolute lie,” Hargrove said. “I never picked Larry Hancock up.” She added she visited Hancock and attended a court case with him.

An exhibit attached to the lawsuit, identified as a Langley & Banack invoice, shows Hargrove as the payee, with the description “Larry Hancock transportation” and a payment amount of $500.

Asked why a firm invoice shows she was paid $500, Hargrove replied with a laugh, “I’m not sure. I did not transport Mr. Hancock from Mississippi at all.” She ultimately declined to say anything more and hung up.

The invoice also indicates a Langley & Banack lawyer with the initials JPR (the same as J. Patrick Rouse’s) billed for work related to “emails to Ronda Hargrove with documents for Larry’s signature; emails to parties with compiled Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure attached.”

Deed in lieu

Langston, who represents McMahan, said he didn’t know the purpose of taking Hancock to Texas.

“I don’t think he had to be in Texas” to sign documents, Langston said.

On July 20, 2018, the partnerships that owned the Weston Ranch land and water and mineral rights deeded them in lieu of foreclosure to a Hancock partnership that had provided the $22.5 million in financing in the 2013 transaction. The document has been submitted as a court exhibit with McMahan’s lawsuit.

Hancock’s signature on the deed in lieu agreement also is a forgery, Langston said.

Petry wrote Greer in 2018 to say it had two contracts for the ranch land but they fell through because the prospective buyers didn’t obtain a contract to sell the water rights to the city of San Antonio — presumably through the city-owned San Antonio Water System.

“The value of the water is great, provided you can find a person that wishes to buy,” Petry added.

Twenty days after the deed in lieu agreement, on Aug. 9, 2018, a Mississippi chancery court appointed McMahan temporary conservator of Hancock’s affairs. Those who performed physical and mental examinations expressed the opinion that Hancock was “incapable of taking care of his person and his estate,” according to a court document. He was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia….

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Is it just us, or is there something similar about this story, Mary Werner’s treatment of Charlie Thrash?

To read this complete article, with allegations of probate lawyers, including Mayor of Shavano Park Bob Werner, abusing the incapacitated elderly, to increase their billable hours, and enrich themselves at their elderly client’s expense, follow this link to the San Antonio Express-News website.

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