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In re Yacobi

Supreme Court of South Carolina

March 14, 2018

In the Matter of Stephen A. Yacobi, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2017-002324

          Submitted February 21, 2018

          John S. Nichols, Disciplinary Counsel, and Kelly B. Arnold, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, both of Columbia, for Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

          Harvey M. Watson, III, of Ballard & Watson, Attorneys at Law, of West Columbia, for Respondent.

          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 a public reprimand or a definite suspension not to exceed nine months.[1] As a condition of discipline, respondent agrees to complete the Legal Ethics and Practice Program Ethics School, Trust Account School, and Law Office Management School within nine months of being disciplined. Respondent also agrees to submit his monthly bank statements, reconciliation reports, and trial balance reports for his trust accounts to the Commission on Lawyer Conduct for a period of two years after being disciplined. Finally, respondent agrees to pay the costs incurred in the investigation of this matter by ODC and the Commission on Lawyer Conduct within thirty days of being disciplined. We accept the Agreement and issue a public reprimand. The facts, as set forth in the Agreement, are as follows.

         Facts

         Matter A

         On December 6, 2011, respondent was retained to represent Client A in a workers' compensation matter. Respondent maintains that on December 7, 2011, his paralegal mailed a Form 50 to the Workers' Compensation Commission; however, the Commission never received the form. Respondent further maintains his paralegal mailed a copy of the form to the Commission in February 2012. The paralegal used a certificate of mailing dated December 7, 2011 for the February 2012 mailing.

         On November 6, 2012, Client A signed a settlement statement prepared by respondent which set forth gross settlement proceeds of $75, 000 and deductions for attorney fees and litigation costs in the amounts of $25, 000 and $197, respectively. However, respondent had waived his claim to recover the latter. The settlement statement did not include a deduction for Client A's existing debt of $4, 671.63 to a litigation loan company or a deduction of $15, 453.50 Client A had directed respondent pay to a car dealer for a new vehicle. Respondent did not revise the settlement statement to reflect an accurate accounting of respondent's actual disbursements from Client A's proceeds.

         On November 6, 2012, respondent deposited the settlement check in the amount of $75, 000 into respondent's trust account. Between November 7, 2012 and November 15, 2012, respondent wrote checks on the trust account to pay attorney fees, Client A, the car dealer, and the litigation loan company. All of the checks had cleared the trust account by November 19, 2012. However, at the time the disbursements were made, the settlement funds were neither collected funds pursuant to Rule 1.15(f)(1), RPC, nor "good funds" pursuant to Rule 1.15(f)(2), RPC.

         Respondent did not respond to a Notice of Investigation from ODC nor a subsequent Treacy letter, [2] and he did not appear for an interview with ODC as required by a Notice to Appear. When contacted by ODC, respondent indicated his non-lawyer staff had not made him aware of mail or notices sent by ODC.

         Respondent acknowledges he failed to supervise his non-lawyer staff and failed to make reasonable efforts to ensure the conduct of his non-lawyer staff was compatible with respondent's professional obligations.

         Matter B

         In October 2013, Clients B retained respondent to represent them in a family court matter. Clients B executed a fee agreement which provided for an attorney fee of $4, 310, and which they believed covered certain legal services, including preparing, filing, and serving a complaint to initiate proceedings on their behalf. Having heard nothing from respondent thereafter, Clients B attempted to contact ...


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