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Bill Sage Trust Account Funds Dispersed After 2 Year Freeze
NC State Bar Investigation Ends, Funds Returned To Local Clients
September 1, 2016

NC State Bar

he NC State Bar this week completed its investigation regarding trust account funds of former Oriental attorney Bill Sage. The Bar indicated that almost all client funds have been or are being returned. But for some of those clients the saga may not be over.

The list of affected former Sage clients made public this week in court includes some who were unaware they were owed funds. They may also have been unaware that details such as title insurance may not have been paid for.

The central issue in the case was the way Sage, a local attorney and Oriental’s mayor from 2007-2015, handled the trust account funds set up mainly for real estate clients. Such accounts are set up with the client’s money to be used for closing costs and services such as title insurance.

As the NC Bar began its investigation in April 2014, Sage had been put under injunction to handle no more client funds. The investigation would stretch back to at least 2009.

The Bar’s investigation led to Sage’s disbarment in October 2015. The disbarment order included an admission of misappropriating some $43,500 in client funds:

TownDock.net learned that earlier this week, a public consent order was filed and signed by Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins in Raleigh. It grants the State Bar’s motion to disburse the remaining trust account funds in Mr. Sage’s trust account which were frozen by the 2014 injunction.

While this appears to close the book on the case in the courts, there could be some new chapters for some of Sage’s former clients.

According to the Findings of Fact (#13) in the court order, some of the money going back to clients represents the premiums they thought they’d paid for the title insurance they thought they had. Some former Sage clients may now have to seek that insurance, years after their closing.

The consent order this week referred to some $8,000, while the 2015 disbarment referenced $43,500 being misappropriated. To reconcile the numbers, TownDock.net spoke with Barry S. McNeill, Deputy Counsel with the NC State Bar. McNeill explained:

Mr. Sage admitted that he misappropriated entrusted funds totaling approximately $43,500 from January 2010 to April 24, 2014. Mr. Sage held some of these funds in trust to pay title insurance premiums for his clients. Instead, Mr. Sage utilized the funds for his own personal benefit. Mr. Sage replenished some of the misappropriated funds by making deposits of his personal funds into the trust account or by leaving earned attorney’s fees in the trust account.

After the State Bar began its investigation and obtained the injunction freezing his trust account, Mr. Sage made some payments that enabled his former clients to obtain their title insurance policies.

The only former clients of Mr. Sage known to the State Bar who have not yet been compensated or reimbursed are those listed in the Consent Order’s Exhibit 1. When the bank sends the balance of funds remaining in Mr. Sage’s trust account to the State Bar, the State Bar will make the disbursements indicated in the Consent Order’s Exhibit 2. As is indicated in Exhibit 2, after the State Bar makes those disbursements, two clients will remain who have not been fully compensated or reimbursed.

Mr. Sage’s attorney has indicated that Mr. Sage will personally and fully compensate those two clients.

Sage was represented by Raleigh Attorney Alan Schneider. McNeill added “Except for the disbursements to be made pursuant to the court’s order, this step (the consent order) completes the investigation.”

Click here for the consent order. It includes a list of 22 clients, on pages 4 & 5, being returned funds totaling $7,866.57. These trust funds date from 2014 back to 2009.

The monies in question were client funds, not related to Sage’s role as mayor. Sage resigned as Oriental’s mayor in July 2015 and has moved from the area.

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Posted Thursday September 1, 2016 by Keith N. Smith

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