March 7, 2012
Attorney "Gets It" And Avoids Disbarment
The South Carolina Supreme Court declined to disbar an attorney who engaged in serious misconduct in light of his efforts to recover from his drug addiction:
The Panel recognized that disbarment was ordinarily the appropriate sanction for a lawyer who misappropriated client funds or whose failure to supervise staff resulted in their misappropriation of client funds. While it found the facts demonstrated a pattern of serious misconduct over a significant period of time thereby warranting a substantial sanction, it also found mitigating circumstances. First, respondent made a good faith effort to make restitution once the disciplinary investigation revealed the trust account issues, resulting in full restitution and no client losses. Second, respondent cooperated fully. Third, respondent presented significant and compelling evidence in support of his good character and reputation from fellow Bar members.
The Panel also found that respondent's use of illegal drugs was a significant causative factor in his ethical misconduct, but that his "subsequent rehabilitation is so substantial and compelling that it should be considered in mitigation." We agree that respondent's actions following his arrest have been exemplary, demonstrating most especially a sincere and diligent effort to overcome the substance abuse issues which led to his misconduct.
Respondent was arrested on a Friday, sought counsel from an attorney known to the local Bar as an expert on substance abuse issues on Tuesday, began attending AA meetings on Saturday, and self-reported his arrest. He immediately entered an intensive rehabilitation program run by MUSC. Respondent went to 90 AA meetings in his first 90 days, completed the rehabilitation program, began counseling sessions with one of the MUSC therapists (which continue years later), and attended Wednesday night relapse prevention meetings. Respondent has worked on a golf course grounds crew during his suspension.
Respondent’s AA sponsor and Robert Turnbull, director of the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Program, testified on respondent’s behalf before the Panel. The sponsor testified to respondent’s deep and abiding commitment to the tenets of AA. Mr. Turnbull praised respondent’s efforts to maintain his sobriety, testifying the respondent was one of the few attorneys he has worked with who “gets it.”
The court imposed an eighteen-month suspension. (Mike Frisch)
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