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In re Biddle

Supreme Court of South Carolina

June 24, 2015

In the Matter James Marshall Biddle, Respondent

Submitted June 3, 2015

Appellate Case No. 2015-000947.

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

Kevin Mitchell Barth, Esquire, of Barth, Ballenger & Lewis, LLP, of Florence, for Respondent.

OPINION

PER CURIAM

In this attorney disciplinary matter, respondent and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) 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 from one (1) to three (3) years or to disbarment. In addition, respondent agrees to pay the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of this matter by ODC and the Commission on Lawyer Conduct (the Commission) within thirty (30) days of the imposition of discipline and to complete the Legal Ethics and Practice Program Ethics School prior to reinstatement or readmission. Further, upon reinstatement or readmission, respondent agrees to hire a law office management advisor upon the terms and conditions stated hereafter in this opinion. We accept the Agreement and suspend respondent from the practice of law in this state for three (3) years with conditions as stated hereafter. The facts, as set forth in the Agreement, are as follows.

Facts

Matter I

Respondent represented a client in a breach of contract action. On July 21, 2008, respondent filed a Summons and Complaint on his client's behalf. The defendant was served on August 1, 2008. On September 3, 2008, respondent sent a letter to the defendant stating his client would dismiss the lawsuit without prejudice upon receipt and verification of certain videotapes. A signature line was provided for the defendant; the defendant signed the letter and returned it to respondent.

Less than two months later, on November 10, 2008, instead of a dismissal, respondent filed a second Summons with an Amended Complaint on behalf of his client. The Amended Complaint added a claim of bad faith in connection with the alleged breach of contract. Respondent then filed an Affidavit of Default on September 9, 2009, and a damages hearing was held on December 8, 2009. Respondent obtained an Order of Default and Judgment against the defendant in the amount of $618,500. The defendant filed a Motion to Alter or Amend based on his belief that the case was to be dismissed; the motion has not yet been scheduled for a hearing; respondent has not responded to the motion.

Respondent did not respond to ODC's initial inquiry in this matter and did not timely respond to a reminder letter sent pursuant to In the Matter of Treacy, 277 S.C. 514, 290 S.E.2d 240 (1982).

Matter II

Respondent represented a client in a post-conviction relief (PCR) action. The PCR application was denied by order dated February 23, 2011. The order shows a copy was sent to respondent on February 28, 2011. However, respondent requested a copy of the order from the Attorney General on April 28, 2011, indicating he had not previously received the order.

Respondent's client sent several letters to the Supreme Court of South Carolina inquiring about the status of his appeal. In response, the Court informed the client that no appeal had been filed. The client filed a pro se Notice of Appeal. The Court notified respondent of his client's filing and reminded respondent he was still counsel of record. The Court required respondent to provide it with a copy of the order on appeal, the date of receipt of the order, the Notice of Appeal, and proof of service on opposing counsel. Respondent failed to respond to the Supreme Court and his client's appeal was dismissed.

Respondent did not respond to ODC's initial inquiry in this matter and did not timely respond to a reminder letter sent pursuant to In the Matter of Treacy, Id.

Matter III

Respondent represented another client in a PCR action. Respondent timely filed a Notice of Intent to Appeal for the client on November 1, 2011. However, respondent did not respond to several inquiries by the South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense, the Division of Appellate Defense to determine whether he would continue to represent the client on appeal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court determined respondent was still counsel of record and informed him he would need to order the transcript. Respondent did not do so and, on March 28, 2012, Appellate Defense ordered the PCR transcript and took over the representation of the client.

Respondent did not respond to ODC's initial inquiry in this matter and did not timely respond to a reminder letter sent pursuant to In the Matter of Treacy, Id.

Matter IV

Respondent was hired by a property management company. Clients and customers of the company were to submit claim information to respondent's office so respondent could assist the company with the decision of whether to file for bankruptcy protection. During the gathering of this information, the company decided it had no choice but to file for bankruptcy protection.

Claimant A was one of the bankruptcy claimants. He was told to send his information to an email address at respondent's office. When that email address did not work, he was given a second email address at respondent's office. Claimant A called respondent's office but could not get any information about ...


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