Submitted May 6, 2014
Appellate Case No. 2014-000725.
Lesley M. Coggiola, Disciplinary Counsel, and Barbara M. Seymour, Deputy 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.
[408 S.C. 192] PER CURIAM:
In this attorney disciplinary matter, respondent and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel 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 any sanction contained [408 S.C. 193] in Rule 7(b), RLDE, with conditions. We accept the Agreement and suspend respondent from the practice of law in this state for two (2) years and impose conditions as stated hereafter. The facts, as set forth in the Agreement, are as follows.
Trust Account Mismanagement
For approximately fifteen years, respondent has practiced law as a solo practitioner. For several years, he delegated monthly reconciliation of the trust account and operating account to his spouse and bookkeeping to other non-lawyer staff in his office. Respondent's spouse and non-lawyer assistants were not specially trained in accounting and respondent provided them with no specific instructions regarding proper recordkeeping and reconciliation of a law firm trust account.
During the time tat respondent's spouse was supposed to be conducting monthly reconciliations, respondent did not review any accounting reports. In fact, respondent's spouse was not conducting the reconciliations each month. Further, the reconciliations that she was conducting were not compliant with Rule 417, SCACR. Specifically, respondent's wife was not reconciling the adjusted bank balance to the client ledger balance for a three-part reconciliation required by the rule. In September 2010, respondent separated from his spouse and she discontinued her accounting work for the law firm. From that time forward, respondent failed to conduct any monthly reconciliations of his trust account.
During the time period relevant to this disciplinary investigation, respondent's practice consisted mainly of personal injury and workers' compensation cases handled for claimants on a contingency fee basis. Respondent's routine practice for disbursing settlements was to have a non-lawyer staff person deposit the settlement check (endorsed by respondent with the client's power of attorney) into the trust account, then prepare the disbursement statement and trust account checks. The non-lawyer assistant would enter the deposit and the checks into respondent's accounting software. The checks prepared by the non-lawyer assistant would be typed and would reflect [408 S.C. 194] the client's name or file number and the purpose of the check in the memo line.
In a five day period in early 2011, respondent negotiated three handwritten trust account checks for round numbers payable to himself totaling $6,500.00. This unusual trust account activity caused a bank representative to alert the Commission on Lawyer Conduct (the Commission). At the time the disciplinary investigation was initiated, respondent's records reflected a number of ...