Submitted April 24, 2015
Appellate Case No. 2015-000531.
Lesley M. Coggiola, Disciplinary Counsel, and Julie K. Martino, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, both of Columbia, for Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Peter Demos Protopapas, of Rikard & Protopapas, LLC, of Columbia, for Respondent.
[412 S.C. 336] 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 a definite suspension ranging from one (1) to three (3) years. He requests the suspension be imposed retroactively to January 13, 2012, the date of his interim suspension. In the Matter of Gay, 396 S.C. 287, 721 S.E.2d 429 (2012). In addition, respondent agrees to pay the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of this matter within thirty (30) days of the imposition of discipline, to pay restitution to the mediator as discussed hereafter, and to complete the Legal Ethics and Practice Program Ethics School within nine (9) months of the imposition of a sanction. Respondent further agrees he shall not be eligible to seek reinstatement until all conditions of his criminal sentences have been satisfied. We accept the Agreement and suspend respondent from the practice of law in this state for three (3) years, retroactive to the date of his interim suspension. Further, respondent shall pay the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of this matter within thirty (30) days of the date of this opinion, shall pay restitution to the mediator as discussed below, and shall complete the Legal Ethics and Practice Program Ethics School within nine (9) months of the date of this opinion. Respondent shall not be eligible to seek reinstatement until he has satisfied all conditions of his criminal sentences. The facts, as set forth in the Agreement, are as follows.
Respondent was appointed to defend Complainant A on a number of criminal charges. Complainant A had already been [412 S.C. 337] convicted on separate charges at trial with different counsel. Complainant A decided he did not want to go to trial again but, rather, he wanted to plead guilty on the remaining charges. Complainant A pled guilty to two charges before one judge and seven charges before another judge. He was sentenced on March 30, 2009, and April 27, 2009, respectively.
Complainant A requested respondent appeal his convictions and sentences; respondent promised to do as requested. The appeal from the March 30, 2009, sentence was dismissed because respondent failed to timely file and serve the Notice of Appeal. In addition, respondent did not cite any issue on which the appeal could properly proceed as required by Rule 203(b), SCACR. Respondent represents he does not believe any preserved issues existed, but that he filed the Notices of Appeal because his client directed he do so. Respondent admits he did not reply to any correspondence from the South Carolina Court of Appeals or follow the court's directives to pursue the appeals. Respondent failed to respond or take any action on Complainant A's behalf.
As a result of respondent's complacency, Complainant A's appeals were dismissed and, when respondent did not request reinstatement of the appeals, the matters were remitted to the trial court. Respondent admits that he mistakenly believed that his representation of Complainant A ended with the filing of the Notices of Appeal. He explains he thought the Division of Appellate Defense, a division of the South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense, would assume the representation, but he did not contact that agency in spite of written warning from the Court of Appeals that unless he provided the Commission on Indigent Defense with all information needed to proceed, he would remain
counsel of record. Multiple letters from the court clearly explained that respondent was still responsible for Complainant A's appeals and that respondent needed to take action. Respondent admitted he did not contact the Commission on Indigent Defense to see whether it would handle Complainant A's ...