Today’s Decisions from the Supreme Court of South Carolina

scsct  Today, February 11, 2015, the Supreme Court of South Carolina handed down six opinions.  Four of the opinions, Matter of Joel Thomas Broome, Matter of Tammie Lynn Hoffman, Matter of Edward Earl Gilbert, and Matter of John Brooks Reitzel involved the reprimand, discipline, suspension, and disbarment of a lawyer.

In the Matter of Joel Thomas Broome saw Broome publically reprimanded and suspended for violating South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 407 and specifically Rule 8.4(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.   Broome was arrested and charged with third degree criminal sexual conduct in the fall of 2013.  He pled guilty to assault and battery and spent 30 days in jail.  This behavior constituted “…professional misconduct…[that is] a criminal act involving moral turpitude…” which violated Rule 8.4.

In the Matter of Tammie Lynn Hoffman involved the disbarment of Hoffman for failure to adequately supervise non-lawyer staff, safeguard client property, and respond to requests for information from the disciplinary counsel as well as engaging in conduct that involved deceit and dishonesty.  Hoffman was accused by a client, John Doe, of taking $25,000.00 of his money.  Hoffman, when finally reached and responding, denied the allegations of theft, claiming instead that her former paralegal used her South Carolina trust fund, without her knowledge or consent, to defraud several individuals, including the complaining John Doe.  Doe tried to contact Hoffman but was unsuccessful.  Hoffman had moved out-of-state so claimed this move meant she was not aware of these issues.  Hoffman failed to respond to inquiries or subpoenas from the South Carolina Bar.  She admitted violating Rule 407, specifically Rules 1.15, 5.3, 7(a) (1), and 8 (1) (b.) 

In the Matter of Edward Earl Gilbert was a public reprimand for attorney misconduct that violated Rule 407, specifically Rules 1.15, 1.5, and 7(a) (1.)  Gilbert handled a bankruptcy for a client.  At the conclusion of the bankruptcy, the client was unable to pay Gilbert and Gilbert agreed to hold $32,434.00 of the client’s liquidated estate in his trust account for a future lawsuit that was never filed.   When his client requested a disbursement of the liquidated estate funds, Gilbert responded that the funds had been used to pay legal fees.  His failure to keep financial records for the trust account meant that he could not satisfactorily demonstrate this to his client.  The South Carolina Fee Disputes Resolution Board was contacted by the client and investigated.  Acquiring the missing records from financial institutions, the Board determined that Gilbert was entitled to $3,840.00 of that sum as legal fees.  Gilbert was ordered to repay the client $28,594.00 and sent to the South Carolina Trust Account School.

In the Matter of John Brooks Reitzel involved the discipline imposed upon a North Carolina attorney who practiced law in the state of South Carolina without a South Carolina law license.  Reitzel admitted to handling foreclosure and deficiency claims without either associating with local counsel or acquiring pro hac vice admission in South Carolina.  He agreed to the “… imposition of a bar to admission of any kind in South Carolina for a definite or indefinite period of time….”  Reitzel acknowledged violation of Rule 407, specifically Rules 5.5, 7(a)(1), and 8.4.

Curiel v. Hampton County EMS resulted in the dismissal of a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals as being “…improvidently granted.”

In State v. Baker, the Supreme Court of South Carolina reversed the Court of Appeals, reversing Baker’s convictions for committing lewd acts upon a minor.   The Court held that the “…indictments were unconstitutionally overbroad.”  Chief Justice Toal dissented and her dissent was joined by Justice Kittredge.

Baker was accused by two of his nieces of molestation.  In 2004, Baker was indicted on four counts of criminal sexual conduct with a minor, alleged to have occurred in 2002, 2003, and 2004.  Just as this case was coming to trial, additional allegations were made by the nieces and Baker was indicted for “…committing a lewd act upon a minor….”

Prior to trial, Baker attempted to squash the indictments, alleging that they were “unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.”  Baker complained that his ability to mount a defense was hindered by the time frame of six and one half years to seven years with no specific dates provided.  The State argued that the specific dates were not an essential part of the charge and thus the lack of specific dates meant the indictments were sufficient.  The trial court and the Court of Appeals agreed with the State.

A majority  of the Supreme Court of South Carolina justices reversed, holding that the issue was “…whether the offense is stated with sufficient certainty and particularity to enable the defendant to know what he is called upon to answer….”  Given the “…expansive time frame and the lack of specificity as to this time frame…” the Court concluded that the trial court erred when refusing to squash the indictment.

About Lisa Smith-Butler

Associate Professor of Law Charleston School of Law 385 Meeting St., Suite 322B Charleston, S.C. 29403 843.377.2144
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