Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent South Carolina Supreme Court opinion disbarring a lawyer who misappropriated client trust funds and failed to advise a client of his interim suspension, which the client found out about after seeing a Facebook post by the opposing party in the case. The opinion is: In the Matter of William Thomas Moody, Case No. 2014-001889 (October 15, 2014) and is online here: http://www.judicial.state.sc.us/opinions/HTMLFiles/SC/27453.pdf
According to the opinion, the lawyer wrote a check to a client from his law firm petty cash account for $3,000.00 in an attempt to replace previously misappropriated funds. At the time the lawyer wrote the check, the account did not have enough funds and the overdraft notice alerted the lawyer’s partner to the misappropriation. The partner covered the check, removed the lawyer as a signatory on all firm accounts, terminated the partnership, and reported the lawyer’s conduct to the South Carolina discipline commission. In addition to the $3,000.00 paid from the petty cash account in January 2014, the lawyer also wrote checks totaling $10,895.10 to or on behalf of an estate and from his personal funds to cover the misappropriations.
On January 27, 2014, the lawyer was placed on interim suspension for the above misconduct. After the suspension was imposed, the lawyer continued to communicate with a client about scheduling mediation and other matters related to a civil litigation matter; however, he failed to advise the client of his interim suspension. He also failed to advise the client that the case had been dismissed.
On February 5, 2014, the client sent a text message to the lawyer asking about the opposing party’s Facebook posting which stated that the lawyer had been suspended. The lawyer sent a response text message stating that he was “not sure” where the opposing party got that information and that he would call the client the following morning. The lawyer called the client the next day and informed him of his suspension; however, he failed to advise the client that the case had been dismissed. The client did not learn of the case dismissal until he received his file from the lawyer’s partner.
The lawyer ultimately signed an agreement with the Disciplinary Counsel consenting to a disbarment based upon the above facts retroactive to January 27, 2014, the date of his interim suspension. The Court’s opinion accepted the agreement and imposed the retroactive disbarment with the following conditions: 1) pay the costs of the proceedings within 30 days, 2) refund the fees paid by the clients, pay any remaining funds owed to the lawyer’s partner as a result of his misappropriation; and reimburse the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection for any funds paid out on his behalf within one (1) year; and 3) complete the ethics school, trust account school, and law office management program prior to applying for readmission..
Bottom line: This lawyer agreed to disbarment for misappropriation of client funds, and failing to tell a client that he had been suspended (and that the client’s case had been dismissed). Interestingly enough, the client found out about the suspension after reading the opposing party’s Facebook post. Let us never underestimate the power of social media…
…and let’s be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail 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