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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Forged judge’s signature turns civil case into legal fracas

Spokane attorney Aaron Kandratowicz rents space at this virtual office at 1312 N. Monroe St. in Spokane. Kandratowicz originally represented Quanah Spencer in a civil lawsuit that has now turned into a criminal investigation after someone forged Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno's signature on a document that reversed her earlier judgment against Spencer. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A lawsuit filed over the condition of a South Hill home has erupted into a legal mess involving a host of attorneys and a Spokane police major-crimes investigation after someone forged the signature of Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno onto a fake court order.

The man who filed the original lawsuit, Quanah Spencer, is an attorney and former spokesman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. Spencer, who currently works as the tribal liaison for BNSF Railway, was arrested earlier this month in Missoula on a warrant for forgery that was issued on Jan. 5 in Spokane.

But the attorneys for Spencer, 41, told The Spokesman-Review that he only forwarded what he thought were Moreno’s instructions to BNSF. The attorneys said he was unaware that the document – which they said was provided by the attorney who represented Spencer in the original lawsuit – had been forged.

“All (Spencer) did was provide an order to his employer that he thought was a legitimate court order,” defense attorney Carl Oreskovich said. “I am hopeful that, with the information that was presented to prosecutors, that the case will be dismissed.”

Spencer and his wife, Gwen, originally hired attorney Aaron Kandratowicz in 2015 to sue SAS Oregon, a company that remodeled the South Hill home they later purchased at 4311 S. Hogan St. The suit also named the Spencers’ real estate agent and realty company.

Moreno later ruled in favor of SAS Oregon and dismissed the Spencers’ lawsuit. The judge awarded $37,000 in attorney fees for the lawyers representing the remodeling company. After the ruling, attorneys obtained approval to garnish Quanah Spencer’s wages from BNSF to pay off the fees.

Then, in October of last year, BNSF received a fax stamped “certified copy” of a court order signed by Moreno that directed the railroad to stop garnishing Quanah Spencer’s pay. Authorities later determined it was forged.

That document, Spencer’s current attorneys say, was provided to Spencer by Kandratowicz.

Spencer’s current attorney, Ryan Poole, said Kandratowicz has not responded to other attorneys’ calls or emails. Kandratowicz did not respond to multiple phone messages Friday from The Spokesman-Review.

Spokane police Capt. Brad Arleth said he could not comment about allegations made by other attorneys implicating Kandratowicz in the forgery case and could only say that the investigation continues.

Arleth did say he’s never heard of anything similar to this fact pattern in 26 years in law enforcement.

“If you are going to forge somebody’s signature, you are probably going to draw somebody’s attention with a superior court judge’s signature,” Arleth said. “Those carry a lot of weight, in general.”

Judge Moreno declined an interview request, saying it would be inappropriate for her to comment with the matter still pending.

Superior Court Administrator Ashley Callan said stamps for documents with judges’ names on them are readily available at the Spokane County Clerk’s Office.

“But they are not the signatures,” she said. “Obviously they had other materials that had Judge Moreno’s signature. It’s just unfortunate that someone would go to the length to forge a court document.”

Legal mess

The legal problems began last June after Moreno ruled in favor of the remodeling company, SAS Oregon, and attorneys obtained approval to garnish Spencer’s wages from BNSF.

On Oct. 23, the Spencers walked into the Public Safety Building and filed a police report alleging that an employee of the attorneys who won the case had committed identity theft by convincing the Spencers’ bank to withdraw $549.83 from their account, Spokane police Detective Paul Lebsock wrote in court records.

Three days later, BNSF received the faxed court order signed with what appeared to be Moreno’s signature. The order directed the railroad to stop garnishing Quanah Spencer’s pay “and to immediately release their funds,” Lebsock wrote.

In November, attorneys from SAS Oregon started calling Moreno to find out why she had reversed her decision. They sent her a copy of the forged court order, which had been dated July 28.

Moreno called for police and told an investigator that she left for vacation on July 24 and had not approved any orders on the date in question, Lebsock wrote.

“It was easily determined to be a forged document,” he wrote.

Lebsock then tracked down the phone number of the fax machine from which the forged order was sent to BNSF. He traced it to a UPS Store not far from the Spencers’ home. From that business, he was able to obtain a debit card number that he successfully traced to the Spencers’ bank account in Missoula, where the couple recently moved.

Oreskovich confirmed all the details in the search warrant. Spencer was arrested Jan. 11 in Missoula and released on Tuesday. But Oreskovich again argued that his client was acting at the direction of his attorney, Kandratowicz.

Spencer “got an email from his lawyer saying ‘Here’s the order,’ ” Oreskovich said. “He went to UPS Store, faxed it to his employer and paid for it with a credit card.”

He noted that to prove the crime of forgery, prosecutors would have to show that Spencer intended to defraud someone.

“They don’t have anything that shows an intent to defraud,” Oreskovich said. “My hope is that with them digging a little deeper that they are going to conclude that my client didn’t do anything but forward a document that his attorney provided and that he is an innocent victim in this.”

Poole, the Spencers’ civil attorney, said his clients got sideways after they believed a “web of lies” woven by Kandratowicz.

“When it’s later found that your attorney is misleading you about essentially everything going on in your case, then you’ll function in that cloak of misinformation,” Poole said. “Based on what we know at present, it’s very unfortunate that the Spencers have been made the victims.”

Poole has appealed Moreno’s original decision and blamed the legal loss on Kandratowicz, who not only failed to show up at a key Nov. 30 hearing but apparently never told the Spencers about the proceeding.

“It’s really tragic and terrible what has happened to an innocent person … who has been betrayed in a host of ways by the attorney and now the system,” Poole said. “The Spencers have been wronged by their attorney. And they are having to deal with the damage he did to their underlying case.”