Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sex, Loans, Leads To Reprimand

The South Carolina Supreme Court has reprimanded an attorney for ethical violations in two matters.

The first:

Respondent represented Client A's husband from July through October 2002.  Client A's husband subsequently passed away.   

Thereafter, respondent represented Client A in a criminal matter from March through July 2003.  Respondent had a sexual relationship with Client A from late fall of 2003 through early spring 2004.  He represented Client A again in a domestic action involving her children from June 2006 through February 2007. 

Although respondent had no active cases with Client A while he was engaged in the sexual relationship, he did from time to time give her legal advice on a variety of matters.  The Rules of Professional Conduct did not specifically identify a sexual relationship with a client as a conflict of interest until after respondent's sexual relationship with Client A ended; however, respondent acknowledges that his conduct was prohibited...

The second:

Respondent's wife is a lawyer.  Respondent's wife represented Client B in a personal injury case and obtained a settlement on Client B's behalf. 

Respondent had a personal relationship with Client B.  Client B asked respondent to act as trustee of her funds.  Client B had an independent attorney draft a trust agreement naming respondent as trustee. 

Respondent's wife issued a series of checks payable to respondent on behalf of Client B totaling $17,600.00.  Respondent did not consider his relationship with Client B to be attorney-client, but more like family; however, he acknowledges that, at a minimum, he had a fiduciary relationship with Client B and that he was bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct regarding the safekeeping of funds. 

Respondent did not place Client B's funds in a trust account but, rather, negotiated the checks to cash and kept the cash in his office safe.  Respondent represents he cashed the checks at Client B's request because she liked to come into the office and view the money. 

Respondent used the funds to provide Client B with food, clothing, an apartment, and other personal necessities.  Respondent did not maintain contemporaneous records of his disbursement of funds to and on behalf of Client B.  Further, respondent admits that some of the payments were from his law firm operating account, rather than cash from the safe.  Although respondent has demonstrated that he made payments to or on behalf of Client B equal to the amount of funds received on her behalf and that no funds were missing, he admits he did not comply with the requirements of Rule 417, SCACR.

In addition, respondent admits he loaned money to Client B.  Although he charged no fees or interest or other consideration for the loan, he acknowledges it was improper for him to provide financial assistance to a client. 

This was an agreed disposition.  (Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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