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Woman can’t pay attorney’s fees, so attorney takes her house at auction

FLORISSANT, Mo. – Ruby Sawyers watched her Florissant home sell to the highest bidder at auction Thursday in St. Louis County Court. That bidder was her former attorney.

“We didn’t have a quarter of a million dollars to pay him, so he took my house,” a distraught Ruby Sawyers said.

Her dilemma began as a custody battle played out in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

Sawyers, who works part-time as a server at a chain diner, stepped in to help her grandson get sole custody of his son when it was discovered the baby's mother has a condition that makes her a danger to his life. Sawyers said they hired Attorney David Waltrip for an agreed upon fee of between $15,000 to $20,000.

They won the case and were awarded sole custody of the boy. According to Sawyers, she paid Waltrip $200 a month until he sent her a much bigger bill.

“He sent me a bill in the mail for almost a quarter of a million dollars,” she said.

Waltrip entered a judgment to collect the money he claims Ruby and her grandson owed to him. A consent judgment showed that amount to be $234,123.31. To avoid the crushing debt, Sawyers filed for bankruptcy.

“Everybody thought we were finished, that we didn’t owe him anything and then all of a sudden, he’s taking my house,” she said.

In Missouri, a circuit court judgment acts as a lien on all real estate in the county in which the judgment is entered. When you file bankruptcy, you get rid of the debt but you need to file another motion to get rid of the judgment lien, otherwise you risk losing your property.

Fox 2/KPLR11 reached Waltrip by phone at his offices in Clayton. He justified his bill saying the case was very complex, with many hours involved and went on for more than two years.

“I tried to work with them,” Waltrip said. “I made payment arrangements with them and they violated the agreement.”

Sawyers said she’s waiting for her eviction notice to be posted on the house before she starts packing and still doesn’t know where she, her grandson, and her great-grandson will go.

"I think it’s terrible that a man can do something to somebody like this,” she said. “I mean, what are we going to do now? We have no house or anything.”