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South Carolina
JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT
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2012-12-07-04

The Supreme Court of South Carolina

In the Matter of Charles E. Houston, Jr., Respondent.

Appellate Case No. 2012-213047


ORDER



By order dated April 6, 2009, the Court publicly reprimanded respondent and, in relevant part, required him to "retain the services of a Certified Public Accountant to oversee the management of his trust account."  In the Matter of Houston, 382 S.C. 164, 167, 675 S.E.2d 721, 723 (2009).  In September 2010, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) petitioned the Court to issue a rule to show cause asserting respondent failed to comply with the Court's order.  ODC claimed that, while respondent did retain the services of a CPA in July 2009, he failed to provide her with any documentation from which to perform an accounting until July 2010 and, thereafter, provided incomplete and inadequate records to the CPA.

By order dated June 8, 2011, the Court accepted a proposed consent order submitted by ODC and respondent.  The order declined to find respondent in contempt, but specified as follows:

…for a period of two years following this order, Respondent shall submit to the Office of Commission Counsel monthly statements from his retained CPA containing the original wet signature of the CPA indicating whether Respondent is cooperating with the CPA.  Respondent shall be responsible for payment of his CPA and timely submission of the CPA's statements containing original wet signatures.

The Court warned respondent that his failure "to fully and timely comply with the terms imposed by the consent order may subject him to a finding of contempt.  No violation of the consent order shall be tolerated." 

In February 2012, ODC again petitioned the Court to issue a rule to show cause asserting respondent failed to submit any of the monthly statements from his CPA to the Commission on Lawyer Conduct (the Commission).  After a hearing on June 6, 2012, the Court found respondent in civil contempt of Court as a result of his failure to comply with the Court's June 8, 2011, order requiring him to submit monthly statements from his CPA to the Commission.  See Order dated June 18, 2012.  Among other requirements, the Court ordered respondent to either clear out the unknown trust account liabilities reported on his April 30, 2012, Trust Account Reconciliation or deliver the funds to the Lawyers Fund for Client Protection (the Lawyers Fund), and to enroll in the Legal Ethics and Practice Program Trust Account School to be held in September 2012.  Both requirements were to be completed within one week of the June 18, 2012, order.  The Court further ordered respondent to attend the South Carolina Bar's September 2012 Trust Account School and, upon completion of the course, immediately submit proof of attendance to the Commission.  Finally, the Court ordered respondent to submit monthly statements from his CPA to the Commission through June 2013 as required by the Court's June 8, 2011, order.

The June 18, 2012, order concluded as follows:

[r]espondent's failure to comply with any of the obligations imposed by this order or his failure to pay the costs of the contempt proceeding pursuant to the terms of the parties' agreed upon payment schedule shall result in his immediate suspension from the practice of law.

(Emphasis added).

In late September 2012, ODC notified the Court that respondent had not complied with all the requirements of the June 18, 2012, order.  Specifically, respondent had not enrolled in the September 2012 Legal Ethics and Practice Program Trust Account School and had not cleared out the unknown trust account liabilities or delivered the funds to the Lawyers Fund within one week of the order.  Further, respondent did not attend the September 2012 Legal Ethics and Practice Program Trust Account School held on September 19, 2012.  In addition, respondent did not submit the July or August statements from his CPA to the Commission as required by the Court's June 8, 2011, and June 18, 2012, orders. 

In response to ODC's notice, respondent offered no explanation for his failure to enroll in the September 2012 Legal Ethics and Practice Program Trust Account School, but asserted he did not attend the course due to illness.  He submitted his July, August, and September 2012 statements from the CPA as attachments to his return.  By letter received December 3, 2012, respondent informed the Court that he was unable to determine to whom the funds in his trust account belonged and, therefore, he submitted a check payable to the Lawyers Fund in the amount of $3,349.00 to ODC on November 26, 2012.1   

Respondent has clearly violated the Court's June 18, 2012, order.  He did not enroll in the September 2012 Legal Ethics and Practice Program Trust Account School within one week of the order and did not attend the September 2012 Legal Ethics and Practice Program Trust Account School as required by the June 18, 2012, order.  Further, respondent did not timely submit the July or August statements from his CPA to the Commission as required by the Court's June 18, 2012, order. 

Finally, respondent neither cleared out the unknown trust account liabilities nor delivered the funds in the account to the Lawyers Fund within one week as required by the June 18, 2012, order.  In fact, respondent has only now determined that he does not know to whom the funds in his trust account belong and has forwarded the trust account monies to the Lawyers Fund, five months after the Court's June 2012 order and after ODC notified the Court of respondent's failure to comply with the Court's June 18, 2012, order.

Accordingly, respondent remains in civil contempt of this Court and he is hereby suspended from the practice of law.  Respondent may purge himself of contempt by attending the February 2013 Legal Ethics and Practice Program Trust Account School and, upon completion of the course, immediately submitting proof of attendance to the Commission.  Respondent shall remain suspended until he files a petition to lift the suspension documenting he has fully complied with this order. 

Respondent shall remain obligated to timely file monthly statements from his CPA to the Commission as required by the Court's June 8, 2011, and June 18, 2012, orders. 

1 As specified in the June 18, 2012, order, the Lawyers Fund shall return these funds to respondent in two (2) years, provided no claims are filed against respondent. 

s/Jean H. Toal                                  C.J.

s/Costa M. Pleicones                          J.

s/Donald W. Beatty                             J.

s/John W. Kittredge                             J.

s/Kaye G. Hearn                                  J.

Columbia, South Carolina
December 7, 2012