Wednesday, December 28, 2011
A two-year definite suspension was imposed by the South Carolina Supreme Court on the following facts:
Respondent has suffered from depression for a number of years and has been under treatment for the condition. In May of 2004, respondent suffered a massive heart attack that affected his ability to work. In addition, his wife had major health problems which strained the family's finances.
Respondent's wife worked as a bookkeeper at respondent's law office. Respondent gave a copy of Rule 417, SCACR, to his accountant and believed his wife and accountant were properly reconciling his trust account. Respondent acknowledges, however, that he failed to properly supervise his wife in her handling of his accounts and failed to ensure that his firm was operating in compliance with the provisions of Rule 417, SCACR. He further admits he was not properly reconciling his trust account in accordance with the requirements of Rule 417, SCACR.
As a result of his failure to properly supervise his wife/employee, respondent's wife was able to embezzle in excess of $75,000 of client funds from respondent's trust account over a period of years. Respondent's wife claims she took the funds to keep their household running and that she kept her misdeeds from respondent due to his heart problems. The Lawyers' Fund has paid claims to respondent's clients totaling $80,999.65.
At some point, respondent received an email from a client. The email claimed respondent's wife was having an affair and accused her of stealing trust account funds. Initially, respondent did not believe the assertions but subsequently learned them to be true.
Counsel advised respondent to remove his wife from the office. Respondent submits that before he could take any action in removing her or determining the truth about the funds, he was placed on interim suspension.
Respondent has been receiving medical treatment. The physician has cleared respondent medically to return to practice.
The suspension was made retroactive to the attorney's March 2007 interim suspension. (Mike Frisch)