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In re Hoffman

Supreme Court of South Carolina

May 28, 2014

In the Matter of Bruce Robert Hoffman, Respondent

Submitted May 6, 2014

Appellate Case No. 2014-000735.

Lesley M. Coggiola, Disciplinary Counsel, and Sabrina C. Todd, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, both of Columbia, for Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Harvey MacLure Watson, III, Esquire, of Ballard Watson Weissenstein of West Columbia, for respondent.

TOAL, C.J., PLEICONES, KITTREDGE and HEARN, JJ., concur. BEATTY, J., not participating.

OPINION

Page 709

[408 S.C. 187] PER CURIAM:

In this attorney disciplinary matter, respondent and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) have entered into an Agreement for Discipline by Consent (Agreement) pursuant to Rule 21 of the Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement (RLDE) contained in Rule 413 of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules (SCACR). In the Agreement, respondent admits misconduct and consents to the imposition of an admonition or public reprimand with other conditions. We accept the Agreement and issue a public reprimand with conditions as discussed hereafter. The facts, as set forth in the Agreement, are as follows.

Facts

Respondent was hired by a family friend to assist with the administration of a trust. Respondent performed some services before entering into a formal fee agreement. In the written fee agreement, Client agreed to pay respondent $300 per hour and respondent required Client to provide a $5,000 retainer which respondent referred to as an initial deposit. The fee agreement stated " [t]his initial deposit is nonrefundable, paid in exchange for the Attorney's agreement to represent Client."

Respondent deposited Client's check into his trust account on a Friday and transferred the entire $5,000 from the [408 S.C. 188] account the following Monday. Respondent acknowledges this withdrawal was improper because he had not yet earned the entire $5,000 and his fee agreement was insufficient for him to treat the funds as an advanced fee earned upon receipt under Rule 1.5(f), RPC, Rule 407, SCACR. However, respondent submits he was unaware of the requirements of Rule 1.5(f) because that portion of the rule had become effective only weeks before the fee agreement was executed. At the time of his withdrawal, respondent believed he was entitled to remove the entire $5,000 because his fee agreement with Client clearly identified the sum as " nonrefundable."

On Tuesday, Client's check was returned for insufficient funds. The bank reported to the Commission on Lawyer Conduct (the Commission) that a $5,000 item was presented on respondent's trust account against insufficient funds. The Commission referred the bank's report to ODC for an investigation.

Client was traveling when she learned her check to respondent was dishonored. She had her husband send respondent a $3,000 payment to respondent's PayPal account which she believed would leave her " significantly ahead in payments." When ...


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