BROKEN HOME

Owner loses rental property in legal battle with tenant

Bill Lodge
DALLAS MORNING NEWS
MAY 8, 1991

Jerry E. Hawkins was hoping that the spacious brick house he built six years ago in far northeast Dallas would someday become a cash reserve for his two infant sons.

But the dream ended after he leased it to a lawyer named Robert I. Kingsley, who lived there rent-free under bankruptcy laws for more than five months.

And that, in turn, became a nightmare for Mr. Hawkins. He lost more than $7,200 in back rent. And on Tuesday, on the steps of the county courthouse, he lost his house at public auction. "The only difference between him (Mr. Kingsley) and a criminal down there in Dallas County Jail is they usually do their stealing with a gun,' Mr. Hawkins said.

Actually, Mr. Kingsley, 65, is a convicted felon.

In 1986, the lawyer became the first person convicted under a 1977 Texas law that prohibits the purchase of a child. In three separate cases, he received a seven-year prison sentence and two 10-year probationary terms for providing money to mothers who had agreed to give their children to couples for adoption.

Mr. Kingsley, who is still fighting the prison sentence, denies that he is the culprit and Mr. Hawkins the victim in their dispute.

He blames the entire incident on miscommunications over a $1,200 rent check that bounced in November.

It was that check that provoked Mr. Hawkins to try to evict his tenant from his property, a 2,800-square-foot house in the 10100 block of Shadow Way. Mr. Kingsley saw the move as a declaration of war. "They filed this damned eviction because apparently one payment was late, or something had occurred,' he said. "Well, hell, that's an attack. I don't appreciate that.' A short time later, Mr. Kingsley filed in federal bankruptcy court for protection from creditors. And for months, the convoluti ons of the legal system helped him stay in the house.

They barred Mr. Hawkins from pursuing an eviction lawsuit or collecting his money, even though Mr. Kingsley admits that until recently he had the cash. At one point, Mr. Hawkins even paid some of his tenant's legal fees to try to force a speedier resolution of - the case.

It's been a bitter experience for Mr. Hawkins, a Dallas native who himself filed for bankruptcy in 1988 after his apartment-building company failed here. He says that he tried to make good on his debts, moving to Virginia and then Georgia, his current home, to find work. "All I have to say . . . is he is a crook,' Mr. Hawkins, 37, said of his former tenant. " . . . He used his being an attorney in getting out of it.' Mr. Hawkins said he didn't know of Mr. Kingsley's felony record when they sig ned the initial one-year lease in April 1989. But he conceded Monday that he was aware that the lawyer had had problems with creditors.

He went ahead with the deal because he thought Mr. Kingsley, as a lawyer, would have "the ability to make money.' The rent was $400 less than Mr. Hawkins' $1,600 monthly mortgage payment. And when it stopped coming in November, Mr. Hawkins started hurting immediately.

Yet he had to wait until February, when U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert McGuire dismissed Mr. Kingsley's case, to pursue eviction. A justice-of-the-peace court ruled in Mr. Hawkins' favor, but Mr. Kingsley appealed -- which again halted any eviction. In desperation, Mr. Hawkins said, he paid his antagonist's $98 appeals fee. "We couldn't go a couple of months (more) without him paying rent,' he explained. Mr. Kingsley, however, thinks Mr. Hawkins paid the fee merely to embarrass him. He contends that Mr. Hawkins still owes him several thousand dollars for repairs to the house. In February, he told Mr. Hawkins' attorney that he would stop fighting the eviction effort and move out of the house within 30 days. "They didn't want me to do it,' he said. "They wanted to rub my nose in it.' In late March, Mr. Kingsley refiled his bankruptcy petition -- on the eve of the eviction appeal hearing. Doing so halted the case one more time.

But the fact that he moved out of Mr. Hawkins' house within one week of the second bankruptcy is proof, according to Mr. Kingsley, that he was not trying to hold on there indefinitely. "There was no thought of staying on and on,' he said. "We could have. I could still be there, absolutely still be there. There was never an intent to stay free.' Regarding his latest bankruptcy filing, the lawyer said he now has virtually no assets and debts totaling more than $263,000. "I own the clothes on my back,' he said.

Included among his debts are more than $30,000 in restitution that Mr. Kingsley was ordered to pay the adoptive parents of a child whom he procured. His three convictions also cost him more than $100,000 in attorney fees, Mr. Kingsley said, and his law license was suspended for about four years.

The State Bar of Texas attempted to have Mr. Kingsley disbarred, a request that was denied in March. State District Judge Bill Rhea ruled that the offenses for which Mr. Kingsley was convicted were not grounds for disbarment because they were not crimes involving "moral turpitude.' David Bridges, first assistant general counsel at the State Bar in Austin, said Judge Rhea's decision was not appealed, even though - the Bar definitely disagreed with it. "We feel that (paying a mother for her child) is a crime of moral turpitude,' he said.

The Bar, he added, is planning to file another action against Mr. Kingsley after a June 3 retrial of the sentencing phase of the lawyer's conviction. Mr. Kingsley still maintains that there were no sales because he merely paid living expenses for the expectant mothers. "The pleasure of this business was taking these kids, sometimes from bad circumstances, and finding them good homes,' he said. "That was the satisfaction, not the money.' Mr. Kingsley also talks about other troubles beyond his lega l woes, including surgical treatments for skin cancer and a detached retina. "So, I've had a lot of fun for five years,' he said. "But, damn it, I've survived, and I'm going to continue to survive.' Jerry Hawkins wants to survive, too. But he says that, thanks to Mr. Kingsley, he doubts he'll ever again qualify for a loan. "When you're having newborn kids, the money you have out then, and you have things budgeted . . . you have a lot of other things on your mind. You don't necessarily want to have to worry about someone like him.'

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