Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Non-Cooperation Results In Greater Sanction

The South Carolina Supreme Court imposed a nine-month suspension in a bar discipline matter involving a series of ethics violations in a number of matters. Among the violations was the failure to pay a fee arbitration award to a client and failure to respond to the inquiries. The court did note some rather compelling circumstances in mitigation:

At the May 2008 hearing, respondent testified to the Panel about his background and several extenuating circumstances that led to his misconduct.  In 2005, his 79-year-old father committed suicide in front of his mother by using a .22 pistol to shoot himself in the head.  Respondent’s mother called him.  When he arrived, his mother was refusing to let EMS take the body away from her.  Respondent was the person who cleaned the blood off the walls.

Three days later, respondent and his wife found out she was pregnant.  Because of a miscarriage a few months prior, they soon had an ultrasound and discovered she was pregnant with twins.  Respondent described the pregnancy as “tumultuous.”  The twins were born in January 2006.  According to respondent, his wife suffers from depression and experienced severe post-partum depression.  He stated that he was trying to “juggle” his wife’s depression, the care-taking of the twins, the after-effects of his father’s suicide, the needs of his 11-year-old stepdaughter, and his solo practice. 

Some time after he was served the formal charges, he called his mother and requested that she take care of the two-year-old twins at her home.  Additionally, after he met with disciplinary counsel for an interview, he went to a physician and found out he had type two diabetes.  He was placed on medication for the diabetes, as well as anti-depressants.

Respondent also made a statement at the second hearing, which occurred in October 2008, approximately four months after he was placed on interim suspension.  He told the Panel that after the first hearing, he began seeing a psychiatrist.  He stated that with counseling and medication, he had “regained his strength” and he asked that he be allowed to continue to practice law.

Respondent submitted an affidavit from his treating psychiatrist, Dr. Steude.  Dr. Steude began treating respondent in August 2008 and diagnosed him with Major Depressive Disorder.  Dr. Steude stated that with medication and therapy, respondent’s depression has gone into remission.  He noted respondent has been cooperative, interactive and honest during his treatment.  Dr. Steude opined that respondent’s personal and marital issues, although not fully resolved, should have “minimal impact, if any, on his ability to competently practice law."

The court rejected the possibility of a lesser sanction in light of the pattern of non-response to the bar. (Mike Frisch)


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