CHARLESTON -- A woman says her well-to-do ex-husband and his lawyer friend hoodwinked her in a divorce and left her with nothing.
Christi Marie Beck-Samms filed a lawsuit June 11 in Kanawha Circuit Court against Gregory Allen Samms and lawyer Chadrick R. Porter, who now lives in Charlotte, N.C.
Beck-Samms said that while she and Samms were married, she bore him four children and was primarily a "stay at home mother" in the South Hills section of Charleston. Porter and his wife live on Norwood Road near the former couple and were friends.
"The parties enjoyed an affluent lifestyle and lived in one of Charleston's most exclusive neighborhoods," the complaint says.
Samms during the marriage, brought in more than $100,000 a year, according to his ex-wife.
In August 2006, Beck-Samms and Porter's wife Jennifer entered into a business partnership. They started a children's clothing store called Sweetpeas. The documents creating the business were drafted by Porter, the complaint says. Beck-Samms said she put in about 20 hours a week at the business, but never earned a formal salary.
In 2007, the Samms began having marital difficulties, the complaint says. Samms and Porter met without Beck-Samms on June 14, 2007 and Porter drafted a petition for divorce, an answer to the petition, a property settlement agreement, an agreed final order and supporting findings of fact and conclusions of law, the complaint says.
Beck-Samms was listed as the petitioner and Samms as the respondent in the divorce. Sometime later, the defendants met with the plaintiff to go over the terms of the divorce.
According to the complaint, Porter explained that the documents would require Samms to pay ordinary household expenses until the couple's home was sold; continue making the payments on the new sport utility vehicle the couple had, with Beck-Samms keeping the vehicle; and divide equally any profits and losses once the home was sold.
Porter continued to explain that Samms, under the documents he allegedly drafted, would pay Beck-Samms $4,000 a month in child support if she waived alimony. Under the terms of the divorce, according to Porter, Beck-Samms would keep her 50 percent interest in Sweetpeas and Samms would keep the assets in his retirement account, the complaint says.
Beck-Samms contends she questioned some of those terms, but was assured by both Porter and Samms that it was a "good deal" for her. She ended up signing the papers. Beck-Samms alleges that Porter forged the signature of his mother -- a notary public -- on the papers and accompanied her to the Kanawha Circuit Clerk's office to file the paperwork.
The plaintiff says Porter then prepared a financial disclosure document for Samms that undervalued the marital assets.
The disclosure also listed stocks and mutual funds as separate assets of Samms, when Beck-Samms contends they were marital assets. The disclosure listed the SUV as an asset of the plaintiff's, the complaint says. At Porter's urging, Beck-Samms says she signed the disclosure.
The couple's divorce was finalized on Aug. 1, 2007.
Soon after, the plaintiff claims her ex-husband began defaulting on the obligations she understood him to have.
In April 2008, Beck-Samms says she filed a motion with the court asking that Samms be found in contempt. In response, Samms made a motion to have his child support obligation modified downward and an unnamed family court judge agreed to modify the amount.
Subsequently, Samms filed bankruptcy, the complaint says.
Beck-Samms says that after her divorce was final, she and Jennifer Porter began having problems working together at Sweetpeas. In Nov. 2007, the Porters allegedly threated Beck-Samms with legal action if she didn't cede her 50 percent interest in the business to Jennifer Porter.
The plaintiff says she didn't have the money to defend herself in court against the Porters, so she agreed and Chadrick Porter prepared the documents conveying the business to his wife.
As a result of all this, Beck-Samms says she's lost her home to foreclosure, lost her vehicle, business, any interest in her ex-husband's retirement savings and has not received any alimony.
She alleges the defendants engaged in fraud, civil conspiracy and that Porter engaged in legal malpractice.
She's seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
Mark W. Kelley and James M. Pierson are representing the plaintiff. The case is before Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles King.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 09-C-1083