In the Matter of Benjamin Jackson Baldwin, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2014-002459
Submitted: November 20, 2014.
Lesley M. Coggiola, Disciplinary Counsel, and Barbara M. Seymour, Deputy Disciplinary Counsel, both of Columbia, for Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Mark Weston Hardee, Esquire, of The Hardee Law Firm, of Columbia, for Respondent.
TOAL, C.J., PLEICONES, BEATTY, KITTREDGE and HEARN, JJ., concur.
[411 S.C. 76] PER CURIAM:
In this attorney disciplinary matter, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) and respondent 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 a definite suspension of nine (9) months to three (3) years or disbarment with conditions. Respondent requests the suspension or disbarment be imposed retroactively to October 28, 2013, the date of his interim suspension. In the Matter of Baldwin, 406 S.C. 214, 750 S.E.2d 92 (2013). We accept the Agreement and disbar respondent from the practice of law in this state with conditions as set forth hereafter in this opinion. The disbarment shall be imposed retroactively to the date of respondent's interim suspension. The facts, as set forth in the Agreement, are as follows.
In November 2009, respondent was admitted to the South Carolina Bar. In June 2011, respondent became employed with Law Firm as an associate with a salary of $24,000 per year. In August 2012, respondent's compensation structure changed to a " commission only" arrangement in which he received 50% of the fees he generated above a monthly amount for overhead.
Respondent worked alone in a satellite office and was permitted to accept cases and set fees with relative autonomy. Law Firm utilized an electronic practice management system in which respondent would create a memo for each new case that would be transmitted to a staff member who would, in [411 S.C. 77] turn, create an electronic client file. When respondent received fees from clients, he would physically deliver those payments to Law Firm's main office, where staff would process the deposits.
During 2012 and 2013, respondent converted approximately $4,000.00 in client fee payments to his own use by two methods. One method involved accepting fees from new clients (in the form of cash or a money order or check payable to respondent), then using those fees for personal use rather than delivering the fees to Law Firm. Respondent covered this diversion of fees from Law Firm by handling client cases without creating an opening memo or an electronic case file. The other method involved accepting cash payment from Law Firm clients and delivering part of the funds to the firm and converting the remainder to his own use. Respondent covered this diversion of fees by altering documents to ...