Submitted: February 2, 2016.
Appellate Case No. 2015-002596.
Lesley M. Coggiola, Disciplinary Counsel, and Ericka M. Williams, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, both of Columbia, for Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Elizabeth Ann Hyatt, Esquire, of Hyatt Law, LLC, of Lancaster, for Respondent.
PLEICONES, C.J., BEATTY, KITTREDGE, HEARN and FEW, JJ., concur.
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 public reprimand or definite suspension not to exceed three (3) years with conditions. Respondent requests that any suspension be imposed retroactively to May 3, 2013, the date she was transferred to incapacity inactive status. In the Matter of Davis, 403 S.C. 370, 744 S.E.2d 502 (2013). We accept the Agreement and suspend respondent from the practice of law in this state for two (2) years, not retroactively to the date of her transfer to incapacity inactive status. In addition, we impose the conditions set forth hereafter in this opinion. The facts, as set forth in the Agreement, are as follows.
Respondent was retained to represent Client A in a domestic matter. Client A requested her file from respondent. Respondent failed to deliver the file as requested and failed to provide Client A with a copy of the final order of divorce that required Client A to pay child support.
On April 10, 2012, respondent was retained to represent Client B in a domestic matter. Following a hearing, respondent advised Client B to file an appeal of the court's ruling. Client B signed a new representation agreement with respondent on July 13, 2012, for representation on a motion for reconsideration and an appeal. Respondent was paid an additional $2,500.00 for the new representation.
Respondent failed to file an appeal on behalf of Client B. Due to respondent's failure to timely file the appeal, Client B lost his right to an appeal. Respondent failed to keep Client B informed of the status of the appeal and failed to respond to Client B's numerous telephone calls, texts, and emails regarding Client B's case.
Respondent admits she failed to withdraw from the representation of Client B when respondent's physical and/or mental condition materially impaired respondent's ability to represent Client B. Respondent failed to refund the advance payment of fees that had not been earned by respondent. In addition, respondent also failed to retain the unearned fees in her trust account.
On January 15, 2013, respondent was mailed a Notice of Investigation requesting a response to the complaint within fifteen days. When no response was received, respondent was served with a letter pursuant to In the Matter of Treacy, 277 S.C. 514, 290 S.E.2d 240 (1982), again requesting a response. Respondent failed to respond to the Treacy letter or Notice of Investigation. Respondent did appear before a representative of the ODC and gave testimony regarding the allegations in this matter.
On October 29, 2012, respondent was retained to represent Client C and her husband with a time sensitive domestic matter. Respondent was paid $1,500.00 for the representation. Respondent informed Client C that she would have an emergency custody order signed by the judge by the end of that week.
After no further communication with respondent, Client C called respondent on November 6 and November 7, 2012, and every other day thereafter. Client C received no response or telephone calls from respondent. Client C sent respondent an email on November 12, 2012, requesting an update. Respondent responded that a hearing would take place Thursday or Friday of that week. Respondent made no further contact with Client C and she failed to return Client C's numerous telephone calls.
Respondent admits she failed to withdraw from representation of Client C and her spouse when respondent's physical and/or mental condition materially impaired respondent's ability to represent them. Respondent failed to refund the advance payment of fees that she had not earned. In addition, respondent failed to retain the unearned fees in her trust account.
On January 7, 2013, respondent was mailed a Notice of Investigation requesting a response to the complaint within fifteen days. When no response was received, respondent was served with a letter pursuant to In the Matter of Treacy, id., again requesting respondent's response. Respondent did not respond to the Treacy letter or to the Notice of Investigation. ...