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In re Samaha

Supreme Court of South Carolina

August 24, 2016

In the Matter of George Thomas Samaha, III, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2016-001508

          Submitted August 9, 2016

          Lesley M. Coggiola, Disciplinary Counsel, and William C. Campbell, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, both of Columbia, for Office of Disciplinary Counsel

          George Thomas Samaha, III, Pro Se.

          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 disbarment.[1] Respondent also agrees to pay the costs incurred in the investigation of this matter by ODC and the Commission on Lawyer Conduct within thirty days of imposition of discipline. 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.

         Facts/Law

         Matter A

         Respondent witnessed and notarized the signature of his client's late wife, who had passed away seven years earlier, on the transfer and assignment of a mortgage in violation of Rule 8.4(d), supra.

         Matter B

         Although he originally denied any altered or forged documents came from his law office and denied any knowledge of altered documents associated with his real estate practice, respondent admits forged insured closing protection letters (ICPL) were issued to the lenders by his staff. Respondent did not prepare the ICPLs, but admits they came from his law office and were prepared by his staff. Information later supplied by the title insurance company and a mortgage lender uncovered forgeries of not only ICPLs, but title insurance binders and title insurance policies. Respondent's agency relationship with the title insurance company that reported this matter had been terminated, as had respondent's approved attorney status. Absent the forgeries of these documents, respondent's real estate practice could not have functioned. Respondent allowed his staff to, in effect, run his office, failed to supervise them, and failed to supervise and review documents for closings in his office. Respondent admits he bears responsibility for what occurred in his law office.

         Respondent admits his conduct violated the following Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 407, SCACR: Rules 1.1, supra; 1.3, supra; 1.15, supra; 4.1 (in the course of representing a client, a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person); 5.3 (responsibilities regarding nonlawyer assistants); 8.4(a), supra; 8.4(d), supra; and 8.4(e)(it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice).

         Matter C

         Respondent failed to ensure prior mortgages were satisfied in four matters involving closings that took place just prior to respondent's one year suspension becoming effective. Respondent also failed to insure, by respondent's account, $239, 618.31 entrusted to him to pay off four prior mortgages.

         Respondent informed the attorney appointed to protect the interests of respondent's clients at the time of his suspension that the records of his law firm as well as the computers were destroyed by respondent's staff. Due to the lack of records, the total amount of funds respondent failed to safeguard is unknown. ODC reconstructed the last months of trust account transactions using bank records, but ODC cannot prove any large sums of money were transferred to respondent, his firm, or his staff. ODC notes multiple trust account checks were written to respondent, his firm or his staff. Prior to the filing of the complaints in these matters, there were no indications of serious financial mismanagement regarding respondent's real estate practice. Apparently, based on the records, new closings were funding previous closings until respondent's suspension, which caused the inflow of new funds to cease. Respondent admits he failed to supervise his staff, failed to reconcile his trust account, failed to monitor his trust account, failed to safeguard funds belonging to third parties, failed to maintain records, and failed to cooperate with the investigation of these matters.

         Respondent admits his conduct violates the following Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 407, SCACR: 1.1, supra; 1.3, supra; 1.15, supra; 8.1(b)(a lawyer in connection with a disciplinary matter shall not fail to disclose a fact necessary to correct a misapprehension known by the person to have arisen in the matter, or knowingly fail to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority); 8.4(a), (d), ...


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