Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
In the Matter of Greenwood County Magistrate Walter Martin
Respondent Walter Martin was presiding over bond court when one of the defendants before him questioned the bond set. Respondent became upset with the defendant and asked the defendant whether he was calling respondent a liar. When the defendant responded, "[n]o, I'm not going anywhere," respondent replied, "[o]kay. Because I'll beat your ass if you call me a liar." Respondent immediately apologized to the defendant. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) charged Respondent with misconduct. Respondent regretted his comment, and the parties entered into an Agreement for Discipline by Consent whereby Respondent admitted to the misconduct, and consented to the imposition of a public reprimand, admonition, or letter of caution. The Supreme Court accepted the Agreement and issued a public reprimand. View "In the Matter of Greenwood County Magistrate Walter Martin" on Justia Law
RFT Management Co. v. Tinsley & Adams
Appellant RFT Management Co., L.L.C. (RFT) brought this action against respondents Tinsley & Adams, L.L.P. and attorney Welborn D. Adams (collectively, Law Firm) based on their legal representation of RFT during the closing of its purchase of two real estate investment properties in Greenwood County. RFT alleged claims for (1) professional negligence (legal malpractice), (2) breach of fiduciary duty, (3) violation of the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act1 (UTPA), and (4) aiding and abetting a securities violation in contravention of the South Carolina Uniform Securities Act of 2005 (SCUSA). The trial court granted a directed verdict in favor of Law Firm on RFT's causes of action regarding the UTPA and SCUSA, and it merged RFT's breach of fiduciary claim with its legal malpractice claim. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Law Firm on RFT's remaining claim for legal malpractice. RFT appealed, and the Supreme Court certified the case from the Court of Appeals for its review. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court with respect to all issues brought on appeal. View "RFT Management Co. v. Tinsley & Adams" on Justia Law
Spence v. Wingate
Respondent Deborah Spence alleged that attorney Kenneth Wingate breached a fiduciary duty to her as a former client in its handling of her late husband's life insurance policy. Mr. Spence was a member of United States House of Representatives, and he held a life insurance policy. Mr. Spence named Mrs. Spence and his four sons from a prior marriage as the beneficiaries of the policy, with all five to receive equal shares of the proceeds. Wingate undertook representation of Mrs. Spence with regards to the assets of her husband, her inheritance rights, and her rights in his estate. Wingate advised Mrs. Spence that she was entitled to nothing from her husband's estate and that she was barred from receiving an elective share by a prenuptial agreement. Wingate advised Mrs. Spence to enter into an agreement with the four adult sons of Mr. Spence to create a trust to provide her with a lifetime income stream. The trust was to be created and funded from one-third of the value of Mr. Spence's probate estate. Mrs. Spence thereafter came to believe that the amount she received under the agreement negotiated by Wingate was much less than what she was entitled to under the will and its codicil or if she had opted for an elective share. Mrs. Spence thereafter brought a lawsuit to set aside the agreement creating the trust. The agreement was eventually set aside. The circuit court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Wingate and found that, "[b]y statute, [Wingate] owed no duty or obligation to [Mrs. Spence] in connection with the congressional life insurance policy or the manner in which it was paid." The Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment to Wingate and remanded the matter for trial. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded Wingate owed a fiduciary duty to Mrs. Spence: "[t]his duty included, among other obligations, the obligation not to act in a manner adverse to her interests in matters substantially related to the prior representation. … we uphold the decision of the Court of Appeals to reverse the grant of summary judgment and remand this matter for trial. To the extent the Court of Appeals indicated whether a duty was owed was a question of fact for the jury, the decision is modified to recognize that whether a fiduciary relationship exists between two classes of persons is a matter to be determined by a court."
In the Matter of Municipal Court Judge Sheryl Polk McKinney
Respondent Municipal Court Judge Sheryl Polk McKinney's sister, who was the Clerk of the Town of Varnville, was arrested and charged with embezzlement of public funds, forgery, and misconduct in office. Respondent's sister was accused of issuing checks in Respondent's name, forging respondent's name to the checks and converting the money for her personal use over an eight year period. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that by her misconduct, Respondent violated multiple Canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct (Rule 501, SCACR). The Court found Respondent’s misconduct warranted a suspension from judicial duties. Respondent was suspended for thirty days.
Bon Secours-St. Francis Xavier Hospital v. Wieters
Appellant Bon Secours-St. Francis Xavier Hospital (the Hospital) was a defendant at trial in the underlying civil case. On the morning of the trial, Appellants removed the case to federal court for the second time on the same grounds as the initial removal. The federal district court judge again remanded the case to state court. The state trial judge, imposed severe sanctions against the Appellants for the delay created by the second removal. Appellants argued on appeal to the Supreme Court that they should not have been sanctioned for the second removal because it was done in good faith. The Supreme Court agreed with both [the trial judge's] version of the facts and his conclusion that the second removal was not based on good grounds and was interposed solely for delay: "[w]hile Rule 11 is evaluated by a subjective standard, the rule still may be violated with a filing that is so patently without merit that no reasonable attorney could have a good faith belief in its propriety. We find such is the case here." The Court affirmed the lower court's imposition of sanctions.