In the Matter of Toni Lee Tack Pennington, Respondent
Submitted: February 18, 2015.
Appellate Case No. 2014-002479.
Lesley M. Coggiola, Disciplinary Counsel, and Julie K. Martino, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, both of Columbia, for Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Harvey M. Watson, III, Esquire, of Ballard & Watson, Attorneys at Law, of West Columbia, for Respondent.
TOAL, C.J., PLEICONES, BEATTY, KITTREDGE and HEARN, JJ., concur.
[411 S.C. 430] 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). [411 S.C. 431] In the Agreement, respondent admits misconduct and consents to the imposition of a public reprimand or definite suspension of up to nine (9) months, both with conditions. We accept the Agreement and issue a public reprimand with conditions as set forth hereafter. The facts, as set forth in the Agreement, are as follows.
Complainant A was employed as a secretary in respondent's law office. Complainant A's husband received a $25,000 inheritance. In January 2010, the funds were deposited into respondent's trust account. Respondent agreed to hold these funds in her trust account and disburse the funds to Complainant A and her husband at Complainant A's direction. Complainant A maintains she did not indicate that any of the money was to be
retained by respondent for prior legal services. Respondent, on the other hand, maintains that Complainant A authorized her to write checks to herself to pay for past legal fees incurred when respondent represented Complainant A and her husband in various domestic matters.
In respondent's initial response to the Notice of Investigation, dated January 11, 2012, respondent indicated that when Complainant A gave her the check to deposit in January 2010, Complainant A authorized her to take $1,500 to pay for past legal fees. Respondent stated that in August 2010, Complainant A authorized another $1,000 payment to pay for respondent's representation of Complainant A's husband in a child support arrearage collection action. Respondent emphasized that the $2,500 total she received from Complainant A's money was for earned legal fees and that these fees were authorized by Complainant A. However, instead of withdrawing those earned fees, respondent wrote a check for $1,000 and a check for $1,500 payable to third parties to pay her personal obligations directly from her trust account.
In a subsequent response dated September 28, 2012, respondent informed ODC for the first time that Complainant A had authorized her to take $4,500 from the $25,000 for earned legal fees. Respondent claimed Complainant A then changed her mind and told respondent that $4,500 was only meant to [411 S.C. 432] be a loan from Complainant A to respondent. Respondent stated she disputed this later characterization by Complainant A, but relented and agreed to treat the $4,500 disbursement as a loan. Respondent continued to disburse funds from this money after the $25,000 was exhausted. The ledger for the $25,000 reflected a negative balance in the amount of $4,500; ...