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'It's just so ludicrous' | Fallout remains after people deal with unlicensed attorney in Dripping Springs

Nichole Humes was charged with falsely holding oneself out as a lawyer in July. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas — A Dripping Springs man is demanding accountability after the person he hired as an attorney turned out to be unlicensed to practice law in Texas.

KVUE first reported that Nichole Humes had been charged with falsely holding oneself out as a lawyer in July. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

But the KVUE Defenders learned that the attorney who hired Humes could also face disciplinary action from the State Bar of Texas.

For Ryan Sagare, moving into the Headwaters Community in Dripping Springs was a dream come true.

In December 2021, Sagare bought his home for just over $700,000.

"Oh, we were ecstatic," Sagare said.

But that joy was short-lived.

Fifteen days later, Sagare got the appraisal for his new home: $856,500, about $120,000 more than what he paid. 

"We were shocked," Sagare said.

Sagare decided to hire an attorney for the appraisal protest process.    

After conducting research online and talking to other homeowners and community members, Sagare landed at the Dorothy Butler Law Firm in Dripping Springs.

Sagare said he paid a flat fee of about $600 and signed over power of attorney to Nichole Humes in May 2022, who was listed as a "senior associate attorney" on the firm's website in 2022.

Sagare said about 40 of his neighbors did the same.     

"I just figured everything was going as it should until we received an email, which was in January. And that was kind of when alarm bells got sent off," Sagare said.

On Jan. 18, 2023, an email came from Dorothy Lawrence, the owner of the Dorothy Butler Law Firm.

The email informed Sagare that the Hays Central Appraisal District dismissed his protest, along with 39 other homeowners, leaving them on the hook for taxes based on their original appraisal.

"I was stuck with the bill," Sagare said.

Sagare said he didn't get clear answers from Lawrence about what happened, so he got a copy of the letter from the Hays Central Appraisal Review Board and sent it to her firm.

"'Since no evidence was presented by you in person or by notarized affidavit in support of your protest, your protest for incorrect appraised market value ... has been administratively dismissed and the appeal closed,'" Sagare said, reading from the letter.

Sagare was shocked to discover that the letter was sent in June 2022 – seven months before Lawrence emailed him about his dismissal.

"Why did it take so long to reach out to us and let us know? How could a lawyer miss your hearing? How can a lawyer mess up a case this bad?" Sagare asked.

As a result, Sagare's monthly mortgage payment increased by more than $1,200. 

"It's hurt financially," Sagare said.

Sagare filed a grievance against Dorothy Lawrence with the State Bar of Texas in April.

"Their failure to attend the hearing was a significant and costly mistake that has left us feeling frustrated and let down," Sagare said.

Then in July, Sagare saw the news about Nichole Humes being charged with falsely holding oneself as a lawyer – the person he thought was his attorney.

"For somebody to know that they're not a lawyer and go through this process of pretending, I mean, it's just so ludicrous," Sagare said.

Aside from the criminal charge Nichole Humes faces, sources tell KVUE the State Bar of Texas plans to hold a disciplinary hearing for Dorothy Lawrence in September after receiving several grievances against her and Humes.

Representatives with the State Bar of Texas said they cannot discuss potential disciplinary actions, so KVUE reached out to trial attorney Jason Snell about what Lawrence can face and why clients should review their cases.

"If mistakes were made or the suit or decisions were made that about things that should have been done differently. You know, certainly, if it's within the timeline, an appeal can be made or, for instance, a motion for a retrial, things like that," Snell said.

Snell also said the rules of professional conduct for attorneys are clear. It is the supervising attorney's responsibility to make sure the employees they oversee are following those rules. He said the State Bar of Texas can issue a range of sanctions for attorney misconduct.

"There can be a private reprimand, a public reprimand, a probated suspension of a law license or a suspended law license or even disbarment," Snell said.   

KVUE reached out to Dorothy Lawrence several times, including stopping by her Dripping Springs office. The door was locked and no one answered. No one responded to our emails, either.

We also reached out to Lawrence's attorney, Ryan Squires, and have not heard back.

Sagare said he wants them to answer for what they did.

"I want them held accountable," Sagare said.

In the meantime, Sagare is telling his story, raising awareness so this doesn't happen to others.

"I'm very upset with this... it is just a bonkers story," Sagare said.

In an email dated Aug. 30, the State Bar of Texas notified Sagare that it is proceeding with an Investigatory Hearing for his grievance against Dorothy Lawrence.

The email went on to state that the hearing "before a local Grievance Committee Panel may result in an agreed resolution of this matter, dismissal or may lead to the finding of Just Cause and the matter proceeding to an Evidentiary Hearing or a trial in district court. During the Investigatory Hearing, the Panel will evaluate the grievance under any applicable disciplinary rules and consider allegations made in the complaint, additional information received during the investigation of the complaint, and information presented during the hearing."

The email also stated that Sagare will receive a written notice once a date, time and location of the Investigatory Hearing is set.

However, there is some good news on the financial front. Sagare said when he protested his 2023 property tax appraisal this year and explained his situation, the Hays Central Appraisal District reduced his home's appraised value back to the amount he paid for it.

If you want to check an attorney's status, visit the State Bar of Texas' website.

If you're the victim of an unlicensed attorney, you can file a complaint with the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee of the State of Texas here.

If you have issues with attorney misconduct, you can file a grievance with the State Bar of Texas here.

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