May 28, 2014 South Carolina Supreme Court published opinion

In the Matter of Bruce Robert Hoffman

Hoffman improperly treated unearned fees as an earned retainer, failed to maintain records for his trust account and mingled trust funds with his operating funds. He consented to discipline up to a public reprimand. The Court, with Justice Beatty not participating, publicly reprimanded Hoffman, ordered him to pay the costs of the investigation, take the Bar’s ethics course and provide trust fund records to the Bar for one year.

In the Matter of David Allen Swanner

Swanner failed to reconcile his trust account, took funds from the account outside normal business practice, arranged loans to his clients from his farther without obtaining informed consent and failed to diligently pursue a workers compensation case. He agreed to discipline and the Court, with Justice Beatty not participating, suspended Swanner for two years, ordered him to pay the costs of his investigation, take the bar ethics course, get accounting help and submit reports on his physical and mental health.

State v Cheeks

Cheeks challenged the charge to the jury that knowledge of the presence of drugs is strong evidence of intent to distribute.  The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court affirmed as modified holding that the charge was improper as unduly emphasizing certain evidence, but, there was no harm here as Cheeks had given financial assistance to the drug conspiracy.

Allegro, Inc. v Scully

The Court remanded this case to the Court of Appeals as the Court of Appeals failed to consider Allegro’s challenge to the trial court’s denial of its motions for directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding  the verdict and this challenge could result in claims or parties being removed from the case.

Tant v South Carolina Department of Corrections

Department sought clarification from the sentencing judge as to the actual sentence imposed on Tant. Based on the letter received, the Department entered a sentence of 40 years replacing the initial sentence of 15 years. Tant challenged this action through the grievance process and the administrative law court without success. The Court of Appeals reversed. The Court, with one justice concurring separately, affirmed as modified. The majority held that before entering an increased sentence, Department must give the inmate notice and an opportunity to be heard through the grievance process. It next held that the Department is limited to the sentencing sheets in determining an inmate’s sentence unless the sheet is ambiguous in which case the sentencing transcript may be used. The Majority prohibited Department from asking for letters of clarification for sentencing judges as those judges no longer have jurisdiction was sentence is pronounced. Applying here, both the sentencing sheet and the transcript are ambiguous as to how the sentencing judge wanted certain sentences to run concurrent to each other, consecutive to each other or partially consecutive and partially concurrent. Thus, the ambiguity must be resolved in Tant’s favor and the sentence of 15 years restored. The concurrence argued that the correct procedure was to require Department to file a declaratory judgment action if it wanted to increase the sentence.

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