THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Litchfield Plantation: Suit over former developer’s arrest moves forward
By Charles Swenson
A suit brought by a former developer of Litchfield Plantation claiming he was falsely accused of theft by three members of the property owners association should move forward, a Circuit Court judge ruled last week.
Judge Ben Culbertson denied a motion by the defendants seeking to dismiss the case. “There may be some overlapping issues,” he said, but the suit is distinct from an on-going case over control of the homeowners association.
Scott Trotter was arrested in July 2011 on a charge of “grand larceny” because he assigned $926,881 worth of promissory notes and mortgages made out to the homeowners association by the Litchfield Plantation Co. to a company he controlled. The complaint was made to the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office by three residents – Joseph E. Johnston, Carol E. Kirby and Robert F. McMahan – who had been elected to the association board in February 2011. That same election ousted Trotter as the association president. At the time, he was also president of Litchfield Plantation Co.
In April 2011, after ownership of the development company changed hands, Trotter assigned the notes and mortgages to his Litchfield Plantation Buyout Group in his capacity as president of the homeowners association.
The warrant issued for Trotter’s arrest said he didn’t have authority to make the assignment because he was no longer the homeowners association president. That was based on a complaint by Johnson, Kirby and McMahan, even though their status as association board members was still in dispute, according to Trotter’s suit.
In October 2012, Circuit Court Judge Larry Hyman ruled that the Litchfield Plantation Co. still had control over the property owners association. That cast doubt over the validity of the election that ended Trotter’s role as president of the property owners association.
The criminal charges against Trotter were dismissed prior to the ruling in the civil suit, but they can be reinstated. And Hyman’s ruling is now on appeal.
At last week’s hearing, Charles Baxter and Yancey McLeod, attorneys for the three defendants, argued that Trotter’s suit for defamation, abuse of process and malicious prosecution should have been part of a counterclaim to the suit over control of the property owners association. Although no longer president of the development company, Trotter was allowed to intervene in the earlier suit over objections from the property owners, who claimed he was using the civil court procedures to try to gather evidence to defend the criminal charge.
Baxter said Trotter’s suit argues the same issues he raised in his motion to intervene in the earlier suit. “It’s being done because it goes to the issue of his right to transfer the notes and mortgages to his corporation,” he said. “The two cases are so intertwined.”
In the defamation suit, “he’s trying to piggy-back the cases,” Baxter said. “He’s advancing the ball based on what went on in previous litigation.”
The issues are further complicated by the fact that Hyman’s ruling is still on appeal, he said. That ruling “didn’t give us good guidance” on who was the proper homeowners association board, Baxter said, adding that “we’re going to take the position it validated the election in February 2011.”
Trotter’s suit isn’t about the property owners association, said his attorney, Peter Protopapas. “It’s about the arrest of a man for grand larceny.”
The defendants brought their criminal complaint against Trotter even though the suit involving the association election had not been resolved and Trotter had offered to place the notes and mortgages in escrow with the clerk of court. “They said, Arrest him,” Protopapas said.
He told the judge there were five reasons to deny the motion to dismiss the case. He only got through two of them before Culbertson decided he had heard enough. “I’m going to deny the motion,” he said.