June 24, 2008
A proposed 90 day suspension was rejected as an insufficient sanction by the South Carolina Supreme Court, which imposed a suspension of six months. The lawyer had represented a client in a personal injury case, settled without the client's consent (the credibility dispute on this point was resolved in client's favor), endorsed the settlement check, deposited it in escrow and took his fee from the proceeds. Further:
...the Panel was justified in expressing concern over the fact that Respondent declined to promptly return the settlement proceeds to GEICO when requested by Attorney [the client's new counsel]. Respondent admitted that Client never signed a settlement release. He also knew of the correspondence between Attorney and GEICO regarding a potential settlement of Client’s claim. Therefore, Respondent was aware that Client’s personal injury claim with GEICO had not been finalized. Despite this knowledge, Respondent delayed returning the funds to GEICO. Additionally, Respondent never relinquished the amount of his attorney fees even though he failed to procure a final settlement for Client. Respondent’s failure to promptly return the entire amount of the settlement proceeds impeded Attorney’s progress in pursuing Client’s claim with GEICO.
The court concluded that a longer suspension than proposed was appropriate due to the "egregious conduct" and the attorney's record of prior discipline. (Mike Frisch)
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