BATON ROUGE — Whatever the outcome of a lawsuit against the former owners of the Hotel Lincoln is, it won't be over how best to preserve the historic property, a local commercial attorney said during a recent interview.
"The desire to revive a historic property would have no bearing on the outcome of this suit," Thomas Fazio, president of the law firm McCollister, McCleary & Fazio in Baton Rouge, said during a Louisiana Record email interview
The property's current owner, area businessman Solomon Carter, son of Louisiana District 68 state Rep. Stephen F. Carter (R-Baton Rouge), filed suit Jan. 31 in 19th Judicial District Court, claiming the former owners did not provide clear title to the building, according to a recent report in The Advocate. The building had been owned by former attorney Walter C. Dumas, who reportedly in 2004 donated the property to his son, Brandon Dumas, but Carter claims that donation was not legally recorded until 2011, according to The Advocate.
The Hotel Lincoln, on Eddie Robinson Drive near the corner of Government Street, opened in the mid-1950s when Louisiana was segregated and catered to black customers turned away from area whites-only hotels. Guests included world-renown entertainers such as Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin and James Brown, but after it shut down in the 1970s and was largely disused for decades, the Hotel Lincoln became part of abandoned Baton Rouge.
More recently, the former hotel's owners have had their own share of problems. In April 2016, after about 44 years in practice, the Louisiana Supreme Court accepted Walter Dumas's "permanent resignation in lieu of discipline," following an order handed down by the high court that month. The Supreme Court's order followed an Office of Disciplinary Counsel investigation into allegations that Walter Dumas "committed serious attorney misconduct, the most significant of which involves his conversion of client and third-party funds," the order said.
The state Supreme Court had suspended Walter Dumas on an interim basis the previous February. The end of Walter Dumas' legal career followed years of discipline over alleged financial misconduct, beginning with a reprimand in 1987.
Brandon Dumas has had his own legal problems. The younger Dumas filed suit against his former employer, Southern University, in August after he was fired from his position as the university's student affairs vice chancellor the previous month over a sex tape scandal.
Questions about how the title was provided at closing will mean more in the case than the property's historic significance, Fazio said.
"Since the judgments are encumbrances against the title to the property, the question presented is why didn't the title agent catch them in its title search and require that they be paid and cancelled at closing?" Fazio said.
"If the donation to the seller had been recorded prior to the recordation of the judgments, then they would not attach to the seller's title. So why was there a delay in recording a 2004 donation?"
It also appears that both Walter Dumas and Brandon Dumas may face liability in the case, Fazio said.
"The seller is liable to the buyer under his warranty of title to clear the encumbrances, but the ultimate liability should fall on the judgment debtor, Walter Dumas, who was the prior owner," Fazio said.
Questions also exist about the title process in this sale, Fazio said.
"The attorney who filed the suit is in the same office as the title agent who notarized the sale," Fazio said.
"If the buyer bought an owner’s title policy at closing, that didn’t take exception to the encumbrances, the buyer would have a claim against the title insurer. The title insurer, if it pays the claim, would then - more probably than not - have a claim against its agent, under its agency contract, who issued the policy. There is no mention of the existence of a title policy or its contents."