A Searcy lawyer stands accused by a judge of hoodwinking a contractor who helped build his 4,200-SF custom house.
In a scathing ruling, Circuit Judge Robert Bynum Gibson Jr. said James A. Simpson Jr. never intended to pay $320,800 he owed to David McAfee General Contractors.
Simpson has appealed Gibson’s May judgment to the Arkansas Court of Appeals. “The judge decided he wanted to rule against me, and that’s his prerogative,” Simpson told Arkansas Business. “He can make a ruling without having to make it as personal as he did.”
In November 2019 Simpson took out a $450,000 construction loan to build his custom home in Searcy and hired the McAfee company, a longstanding Beebe business of more than 40 years. Simpson had even represented David McAfee in the past.
But when the construction loan was exhausted — no budget was established — Simpson borrowed from David McAfee to finish the job. McAfee used money from retirement funds for himself and his wife. David McAfee, who had turned his company over to a son, Will, died Sept. 10 at 66.
Simpson “provided assurances that he would immediately pay,” the company’s attorney, Jessalynn Born of Beebe, told Arkansas Business.
McAfee’s final bill came to $320,800, which Simpson didn’t pay. “And we’ve been fighting ever since,” she said. The company filed suit in White County Circuit Court in January 2021, seeking the money and accusing Simpson, a University of Arkansas School of Law graduate, of fraud.
Several White County judges recused, and the Supreme Court of Arkansas appointed Gibson, who is retired. Simpson, through his attorney, Albert Thomas III of Bentonville, moved to sanction Born and the plaintiff for “a blatant abuse of the legal system,” saying the company doesn’t have a valid claim. The judge denied the sanctions request.
In court filings, Simpson argued that he wasn’t provided an “Important Notice to Owner,” which is a statement of rights for homeowners. If the contractor fails to give the notice, he can’t bring suit against the owner to enforce provisions of a residential contract, Gibson said in his filing.
The act that covered that issue, Act 1208, was repealed in 2021. Gibson said Simpson was using the act, which was in effect when his house was built, to “defeat a promise to repay his client the completion costs of his home.”
“This Court finds that he could not have intended to repay the McAfees, and always intended to base his refusal on Act 1208,” Gibson wrote. “He hoodwinked them.”
David and Will McAfee testified before Gibson in December 2021, and the judge found them to be “the most credible and honest to God, truth telling witnesses that this Court has ever listened to,” Gibson wrote.
“Simpson’s answers to questions were at best dodgy or plainly mendacious,” Gibson wrote. “The McAfees are guileless; incapable of concocting a false narrative; Simpson is their opposite.”
Simpson told Arkansas Business that Will McAfee took advantage of him. “I had an amount that I wanted to spend and leave it there. And when we got to the end, he told me we’re going to be over.”
At the trial in December, Simpson said he didn’t know what it would cost to finish the construction of the home.
Gibson also criticized Simpson for not telling the McAfees until January 2021 that he hadn’t made any arrangements to pay them.
Simpson “had no loan application pending; but rather he deceitfully lulled his clients into a false sense of security,” Gibson wrote.
“ … Simpson was and continues to use every excuse in the world to keep from honoring his word to his clients. The injustice resulting from Simpson’s conduct to his clients is self-evident. He has essentially robbed David and his wife of their retirement fund, all to build himself a lavish home.”
Simpson said he disagreed with the Gibson’s findings and characterization of him.
“I could line up 100 people if I had to to dispute what he said about me and, and how he attacked my integrity,” Simpson said. “I don’t take it lightly. Since he was the judge, I’ve got to let this run its course, but he is completely wrong about me.”