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In re Defillo

Supreme Court of South Carolina

August 13, 2014

In the Matter of Alma C. Defillo, Respondent Appellate Case No. 2014-001077.

Submitted July 29, 2014

Lesley M. Coggiola, Disciplinary Counsel, and Barbara M. Seymour, Deputy Disciplinary Counsel, both of Columbia, for Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Alma C. Defillo, of Jacksonville, Florida, Pro se.

TOAL, C.J., PLEICONES, BEATTY, KITTREDGE and HEARN, JJ., concur.

OPINION

[409 S.C. 315] PER CURIAM:

Respondent is licensed to practice law in Florida; she is not licensed to practice law in South Carolina. In November 2013, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) filed Formal Charges against respondent alleging she operated a law firm and offered legal services in South Carolina. In addition, ODC alleged that respondent advertised and solicited clients in South Carolina in violation of Rule 7, RPC, Rule 413, SCACR, and Rule 418, SCACR.

Page 553

Respondent did not answer the Formal Charges, was found to be in default, and is therefore deemed to have admitted the factual allegations [409 S.C. 316] made in those charges. See Rule 24(a), RLDE, Rule 413, SCACR. Following an evidentiary hearing in which respondent did not appear, the Hearing Panel issued a Panel Report recommending the Court sanction respondent for her misconduct. Neither ODC nor respondent filed exceptions to the Panel Report. The matter is now before the Court for consideration.

Facts

Matter I

In 2012, respondent opened an office in Greenville, ostensibly to handle federal immigration matters. Respondent had no law partners or associates who were licensed in South Carolina except for a period of approximately fourteen days in August 2012. Respondent offered to provide legal services in South Carolina using methods specifically targeted at potential clients in South Carolina, including a law firm website, business cards, print advertisements, and radio commercials as discussed below.

In connection with her representation of two clients in federal immigration matters, respondent sent letters to judges for the state circuit court in Greenville, requesting certification that the clients were crime victims. The letterhead contained the phrase " Attorneys and Counselors at Law" when, in fact, respondent had no partners or associates at the times the letters were written. Respondent's letterhead included her Greenville office address without indicating the jurisdictional limitations on her ability to practice law.

Respondent advertised her law firm through the use of a website available to residents of South Carolina. Included on the website are references to respondent's Greenville office. Respondent's website contains material misrepresentations and omits facts necessary to make the contents considered as a whole not materially misleading. On her website, respondent advertises her office in Greenville but fails to state that she is not licensed to practice law in South Carolina or to otherwise set forth the jurisdictional limitations on her practice in this state. Further, respondent's website is not limited to the promotion of her federal immigration practice as she advertises her experience in both criminal and family law and [409 S.C. 317] offers to " analyze the facts of [her prospective client's] case by applying current...State Laws."

In addition to false and misleading statements regarding offers to practice in this jurisdiction, respondent repeatedly refers to the firm's " lawyers" and " attorneys" when, in fact, respondent is a sole practitioner with no partners, only ...


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