In the Matter of N. Douglas Brannon, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2019-001780
Submitted November 8, 2019
S. Nichols, Disciplinary Counsel, and Ericka McCants
Williams, Senior Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, both of
Columbia, for Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Douglas Brannon, of Spartanburg, pro se.
attorney disciplinary matter, Respondent and the Office of
Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) have entered into an Agreement for
Discipline by Consent (the Agreement) pursuant to Rule 21,
RLDE, Rule 413, SCACR. In the Agreement, Respondent admits
misconduct and consents to the imposition of a confidential
admonition or a public reprimand. We accept the Agreement and
issue a public reprimand. We further order Respondent to (1)
complete the Legal Ethics and Practice Program Ethics School
within nine (9) months of the date of this opinion, and (2)
pay the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution
of these matters by ODC and the Commission on Lawyer Conduct
(the Commission) or enter into a reasonable payment plan with
the Commission within thirty (30) days of the date of this
facts, as set forth in the Agreement, are as follows.
March 23, 2012, Respondent was retained to represent Client
in a post-conviction relief (PCR) action for a $5, 000 fee.
Client's grandfather initially paid Respondent $1, 000
for the representation. On February 5, 2013, Client's
grandfather paid Respondent the remaining $4, 000. Respondent
filed Client's PCR action on November 21, 2014. The
Office of the Attorney General filed a return requesting
summary dismissal of the PCR application. The PCR court
issued a conditional order of dismissal due to
Respondent's failure to file the PCR application within
the statute of limitations, and granted Respondent and Client
twenty days to show why the conditional order should not
filed a brief in response to the conditional order explaining
the PCR action was untimely due to a clerical error within
Respondent's office. Respondent represented he informed
Client and Client's grandfather that no action would be
taken on the PCR matter until Respondent's $5, 000 fee
was paid in full. The law firm's accounting system was
set with a notice mechanism to notify Respondent when the fee
was paid in full so that the PCR application could be filed.
The second and final $4, 000 payment was posted in
Client's grandfather's name and listed the
grandfather as a new client; therefore, Respondent never
received the notification that the fee was paid in full.
Respondent was unaware of the issue until Client's
grandfather came to Respondent's office for a status
court issued a final order of dismissal on November 22, 2016.
Upon receipt of the final order, Respondent met with Client,
explained the error, refunded the entire amount of the fees
received, and assisted Client with retaining new counsel for
times during the representation, Respondent failed to
adequately communicate with Client regarding the status of
the case. Respondent represented he maintained communication
with Client's grandfather, but admitted his communication
with the grandfather did not satisfy his obligation to
maintain reasonable communication with Client.
5 to Rule 1.5, RPC, Rule 407, SCACR, reminds attorneys a fee
agreement "may not be made whose terms might induce the
lawyer improperly to curtail services for the client or
perform them in a way contrary to the client's
interest." Rule 1.5, RPC, Rule 407, SCACR cmt. 5.
Although Respondent informed Client and Client's
grandfather that no action would be taken on the PCR matter
until Respondent's fee was paid in full, Respondent's
duties to provide competent representation and act with
reasonable diligence and promptness arose on the day he was
retained. See Rule 1.1 RPC, Rule 407, SCACR
(competence); Rule 1.3, RPC, Rule 407, SCACR (diligence).
Once a lawyer accepts employment, the lawyer may, with
reasonable warning, withdraw from representation due to the
client's substantial failure to fulfill an obligation to
pay for the lawyer's services. See Rule
1.16(b)(5), RPC, Rule 407 SCACR ("[A] lawyer may
withdraw from representing a client if . . . the client fails
substantially to fulfill an obligation to the lawyer
regarding the lawyer's services or payment therefor and
has been given reasonable warning that the lawyer will
withdraw unless the obligation is fulfilled . . . .").
However, a lawyer may not condition the duties of
representation on the payment of fees. Therefore,
Respondent's advice to Client and Client's
grandfather that he would take no action on Client's PCR
case until receiving full payment does not in any way
mitigate Respondent's failure to file Client's PCR
claim within the statute of limitations.