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In re Moses

Supreme Court of South Carolina

April 20, 2016

In the Matter of Timothy Eugene Moses, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2015-001255

Heard January 12, 2016.

Assistant Disciplinary Counsel Julie K. Martino, of Columbia, for Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Peter D. Protopapas, of Rikard & Protopapas, L.L.C., of Columbia; Alexander M. Sanders, Jr., of Charleston; and Michael J. Virzi, of Columbia, all for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:

This attorney disciplinary matter stems from allegations that Respondent Timothy Eugene Moses stole thousands of dollars from his law firm (the Firm) by improperly billing clients. Respondent, who admitted to the misconduct after the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) filed formal charges, appeared before a panel of the Commission on Lawyer Conduct (the Panel). The Panel recommended Respondent be suspended from the practice of law for one year.

Both Respondent and ODC raise exceptions to the Panel's recommendation: Respondent argues his conduct justifies only a six-month suspension, while ODC argues Respondent should be disbarred. As discussed below, we agree with ODC that Respondent's conduct merits disbarment.

I.

There is no dispute over the facts in this case.

Respondent worked for the Firm, both as a summer clerk while in law school and as an attorney following his graduation in 1994, [1] until he abruptly resigned in September 2011. The Firm became suspicious of Respondent when a client contacted the Firm and claimed to have received a bill for $500 from Respondent asking the client to pay Respondent directly, which was in contravention of the Firm's policies. Typically, clients paid the Firm, and the Firm then paid its lawyers a fixed salary, a percentage of profits, or a combination of both. When the chairman of the Firm's executive committee (the Chairman) confronted Respondent on October 5, 2011, about the billing abnormality, Respondent initially feigned ignorance. The next day, Respondent emailed the Chairman and admitted sending the bill, which he termed a "local" statement, in response to the client's request. Respondent said the fact that he may have accidentally deposited the check into his personal account "embarrassed and horrified" him, "caused [him] fits, " and kept him up at night. After "discovering" that he had in fact deposited the check, Respondent immediately agreed to repay the $500, plus interest. He reiterated that he was "extremely embarrassed and mortified" and "[could not] believe [he] made such an egregious error and [he was] just sick about it."[2]

About a week later, Respondent met with the Firm's executive committee to discuss his actions. He claimed the two local statements he mentioned to the Chairman were the only times he had billed clients directly and was adamant that those two occurrences were isolated mistakes. The Firm's executive committee, however, remained suspicious and hired a computer forensics expert to examine Respondent's laptop to ascertain whether there were other instances of improper billing.

The forensic examination uncovered approximately $77, 000 in improper invoices, dated from August 2009 through September 2011. The computer expert also testified there had been two attempts to "scrub, " or completely erase, the computer's hard drive. The expert said those attempts were largely successful, as there was evidence of other invoices that could not be recovered.

After discovering the extent of Respondent's actions, the Chairman filed complaints against Respondent in Georgia and South Carolina.[3] After Respondent became aware he was being investigated, in March 2012, he retained counsel, finally admitted to the theft, and offered to repay the money he stole from the Firm.[4] ODC filed formal charges against Respondent on March 13, 2013, alleging violation of the following Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 407, SCACR: Rule 1.15 (safekeeping property); Rule 4.1 (truthfulness in statements to others); Rule 8.4(b) (criminal act that reflects adversely on lawyer's honesty); Rule 8.4(d) (conduct involving dishonesty); and Rule 8.4(e) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice). ODC sought sanctions against Respondent pursuant to the following Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement, Rule 413, SCACR: Rule 7(a)(1) (violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct); Rule 7(a)(5) (conduct tending to pollute the administration of justice, bring the legal profession into disrepute, or demonstrating an unfitness to practice law); and Rule 7(a)(6) (violation of the oath of office taken to practice law).

Respondent appeared before the Panel at a hearing held on October 24, 2013. The Panel issued its report ...


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