In the Matter of Gene Stockholm, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2016-000453
Submitted April 5, 2016
Lesley M. Coggiola, Disciplinary Counsel, and Julie K. Martino, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, both of Columbia, for Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Frank Anthony Barton, of West Columbia, for Respondent.
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 a definite suspension of nine months to three years, or disbarment, with conditions. We accept the Agreement and disbar respondent from the practice of law in this state. The facts, as set forth in the Agreement, are as follows.
Respondent filed a summons and complaint on behalf of Client A. Thereafter, he performed no work on the case and did not enter into settlement negotiations. After about a year, the case came up on the docket, at which time respondent realized he never served the defendant with the summons and complaint, and the statute of limitations had expired. Respondent filed a motion to dismiss the case pursuant to Rule 40(j), SCRCP, which was granted. Respondent told Client A the case had settled for $60, 000. Respondent hoped to receive money in another case and give his earnings from that case to Client A.
Respondent's law partner met with Client A and explained he carried malpractice insurance. He also explained there was still time to file an action on behalf of Client A's daughter arising out of the same accident before the statute of limitations expired. However, Client A took her client file and hired other counsel. Respondent self-reported this matter to ODC. Respondent's law partner also reported the misconduct. Respondent's law partner subsequently discovered there were two other cases in which respondent had misled clients and allowed the statute of limitations to expire, and notified ODC of this discovery.
Respondent filed a summons and complaint on behalf of Client B and forwarded it for service, but never received an affidavit confirming service on the defendant. Respondent learned the process server was very ill and could not sign an affidavit of service. However, respondent did not attempt to re-serve the defendant and the statute of limitations expired. Respondent later fabricated a disbursement statement that indicated the total recovery from the defendant was $10, 750. Of that amount, $3, 250 was indicated to be for attorney's fees, $1, 000 for medical costs, and $6, 500 for Client B. Respondent went so far as to write a check to Client B for $6, 500; however, the check was never cashed. Respondent anticipated receiving funds from another case and using his fee in that case to pay Client B.
Respondent's law partner met with Client B, who agreed to accept $3, 000 from the firm. In exchange for that amount and negotiation of her medical bills, Client B signed a release of all claims arising from any case handled by the firm. Respondent's law partner paid Client B $3, 000 out of firm funds.
Respondent filed a summons and complaint on behalf of Client C and began the discovery process. However, due to difficulty locating a witness and the need for more time to conduct depositions, opposing counsel requested the case be dismissed pursuant to Rule 40(j) in order to continue discovery. Respondent agreed and the case was stricken from the docket with the intent of restoring the case once the witness was located and depositions were completed. Respondent made some attempts to find the missing witness, but missed the one year deadline for restoring the case to the docket. ...