Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent opinion of the South Carolina Supreme Court which prohibited a Florida lawyer not admitted in that state from admission to practice for soliciting business over the internet and representing clients in that state and failing to respond to the allegations. The opinion is: In the Matter of Charles William Berger, Case No. 27377 (April 9, 2014) and the opinion is at: http://www.judicial.state.sc.us/opinions/HTMLFiles/SC/27377.pdf.
According to the opinion, the South Carolina Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) filed formal charges against the lawyer in May 2013 alleging that, inter alia, he solicited clients in South Carolina through the “Internet” and represented clients in two separate foreclosure matters in South Carolina. The lawyer did not respond to the charges and was deemed to have admitted the factual allegations.
Following an evidentiary hearing in which the lawyer did not appear, a disciplinary hearing panel issued a report recommending that the lawyer: 1) be prohibited from seeking any form of admission in South Carolina for five years; 2) reimburse all fees and costs paid by the South Carolina clients harmed by his misconduct within thirty (30) days of the date of discipline; and 3) be required to pay the costs of the proceedings within thirty (30) days of the date of discipline. The lawyer did not file any exceptions to the report. The opinion stated:
“We find respondent’s misconduct particularly egregious. Although not admitted to practice law in South Carolina, respondent nevertheless engaged in the practice of law in this state. He represented clients in South Carolina. He or his firm provided advice to clients and prepared and filed pleadings, some of which were frivolous, on behalf of his clients. Although he prepared and filed motions, respondent neglected to attend the motion hearings. Moreover, respondent charged and collected unreasonable fees from clients for the minimal work he did perform and then continued to collect fees from clients even after his representation ceased. When disciplinary charges were filed against him, respondent ignored the matter by failing to respond, participate in the investigative process, or appear for the hearing.
If respondent were admitted to practice law in South Carolina, his conduct would warrant disbarment. Since he is not admitted in South Carolina, we find it appropriate to permanently debar him from seeking any form of admission to practice law in this state (including pro hac vice admission) without first obtaining an order from this Court allowing him to seek admission. We further order respondent to fully reimburse all fees and costs paid by the clients in this matter and to pay the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of this matter by ODC and the Commission within thirty (30) days of the date of this opinion. Should he wish to seek admission in the future, the burden of proof shall be on respondent to establish by clear and convincing evidence that he is of sufficient character and fitness. Under no circumstances shall respondent be eligible to seek admission until he has fully reimbursed his clients for all fees and costs paid in this matter and paid the costs of this proceeding. (emphasis supplied)
Bottom line: Through the magic of the “Internet”, this lawyer was able to obtain and represent clients in foreclosure matters in South Carolina, even though he was not admitted in that state and it appears that he won’t be practicing law in that state anytime in the near future. Multijurisdictional practice has certainly not evolved to include this type of practice and it will be interesting to see if Florida takes any disciplinary action against him.
Let’s be careful out there!
Disclaimer: this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670