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In re Lapham

Supreme Court of South Carolina

June 17, 2015

In the Matter of Steven Robert Lapham, Respondent

Heard May 7, 2015.

Appellate Case No. 2014-002762.

DISBARRED.

Lesley M. Coggiola, Disciplinary Counsel and Julie K. Martino, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, both of Columbia, for Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Steven Robert Lapham, of Anderson, pro se.

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

OPINION

Page 149

[412 S.C. 543] PER CURIAM:

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) filed formal charges against Steven R. Lapham (Respondent) relating to fourteen separate matters, including, inter alia, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, failure to cooperate with ODC, failure to cooperate with the Attorney to Protect Clients' Interests (ATP), and failure to communicate with his clients. Following a hearing, a panel of the Commission on Lawyer Conduct (the Panel) recommended disbarment.

We disbar Respondent, order him to make the restitution outlined in this opinion, to pay the costs of the proceedings, and to reimburse the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection. In addition to the other requirements of 33 of the Rule for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement (RLDE) contained in Rule 413 of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules, we require him to complete the Legal Ethics and Practice Program Ethics School, the Trust Account School, and the Advertising School prior to seeking readmission to the South Carolina Bar. As an additional condition of any readmission, he must enter into an agreement with a Law Office Management Advisor approved by the Commission on Lawyer Conduct.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

ODC filed formal charges against Respondent on April 8, 2014. Respondent failed to file an answer and the Panel held him in default. The allegations against Respondent, which are deemed admitted due to his default, are as follows:

[412 S.C. 544]Matter 12-DE-L-0636

Clients paid a company which fraudulently promised to help them secure a government grant for repairs to their home and thereafter hired Respondent to help them obtain a refund. Respondent told the clients the company was running a scam, and promised he would get their money back.

Respondent charged the clients $2,000.00, even though he knew the operation was a scam. Respondent wrote three letters to the company requesting a refund, and had only two telephone conversations with the clients. Although Respondent suggested a meeting with the clients to discuss their situation, he never followed up with them and never returned their documents. The clients continued to attempt to contact Respondent, but to no avail.

Respondent did not respond to the notice of investigation from ODC until he was subpoenaed to appear for an on-the-record interview. He appeared for the interview on September 20, 2012. One of the clients also filed a complaint with the Resolution of Fee Disputes Board of the South Carolina Bar. Respondent did not cooperate with the Board, which ultimately found Respondent should refund $2,000.00 to the clients. Respondent did not refund the money. A certificate of non-compliance was filed in Anderson County on December 3, 2012.

Respondent was subpoenaed to appear for a second interview on January 10, 2013. Respondent signed the certificate of service indicating he received notice of the scheduled interview. Respondent failed to appear or contact ODC about his absence until January 11, 2013. At that time, he indicated he would provide ODC with the documents previously requested. He further assured counsel for ODC that he would provide responses to notices of investigation in several other cases. Respondent never provided the requested information. Respondent was placed on interim suspension on January 15, 2013, and James Jolly, Jr. was appointed as ATP. In re Lapham, 402 S.C. 223, 742 S.E.2d 1 (2013). Respondent was again subpoenaed to appear for an interview on March 19, 2013, but failed to appear.

[412 S.C. 545]Matter 12-DE-L-1112

A certificate of non-compliance was submitted to ODC by the Resolution of Fee Disputes Board for Respondent's failure to pay an award of $800.00 to one of Respondent's clients. Respondent failed to respond to the notice of investigation and failed to appear for an interview pursuant to Rule 19(c)(3), RLDE.

Matter 12-DE-L-1213

Client hired Respondent to represent her in a divorce. On at least two occasions, Respondent showed up late at night, unannounced

Page 150

at her home. One of these times was the evening before the divorce hearing. He was not prepared to try the case the next day and pleaded with her to settle. Respondent refused to negotiate with the guardian ad litem and was unprepared when the hearing went forward.

After the client requested her file several times from Respondent, he informed her the order had not yet been signed and he was still working on the case. Respondent failed to keep her informed about the status of the case and failed to promptly comply with her requests for information. The client went to another attorney and asked him to retrieve the file from ...


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