August 16, 2010
Predatory Behavior Results In Disbarment
The South Carolina Supreme Court has rejected a variety of claims and disbarred an attorney for ethical misconduct in two client matters. The court described the violations:
This matter involved the aggravated misconduct of an attorney who engaged in egregious, predatory behavior, taking advantage of and causing great detriment to his clients. Respondent took vast, yet unchecked, power over the affairs of the clients at issue. Respondent used these powers for his benefit, but to the detriment of the clients. When a lawyer acquires fiduciary duties over his clients' affairs, as is the case in this matter, he must meticulously account for his handling of the client's real and personal property. Respondent failed to keep account of his handling of his clients' financial transactions, hiding the great detriment he caused them. Any friendship Respondent gave to the clients at issue here, as he claims to have provided them, is no substitute for the great harm he caused them.
The court rejected the suggestion that the mixing of the role of prosecutor and investigator tainted the proceeding:
Seymour acted as an investigator and prosecuting attorney in the time leading up to the hearing. When ODC called Seymour to testify, Respondent objected based on Rule 3.7, RPC, Rule 407, SCACR. Rule 3.7 prohibits a lawyer from acting as an advocate at a trial in which the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness unless certain exceptions are met.
In our view, a respondent at an investigative hearing may not ask the Panel to adjudicate an opposing attorney's compliance with the Rules of Ethics. An independent grievance filing may be made, but the Panel is not the correct forum. In any event, we find no abuse of discretion on the part of the Chairman. Seymour was included on Respondent's witness list submitted prior to trial and her testimony at trial was limited to presentation of facts, documents, and statements by Respondent obtained in the course of the investigation. Thus, we find no error in the admission of Seymour's testimony at the hearing.
The court also rejected claims concerning the admission of hearsay evidence. The court found the documents were not hearsay and were properly admitted. (Mike Frisch)
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