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24663 - In the Matter of Arthur T. Meeder

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA

In the Supreme Court

In the Matter of Arthur T.

Meeder, Respondent,

Opinion No. 24663

Heard June 4, 1997 - Filed August 4, 1997

DISBARRED

Arthur T. Meeder, of Hilton Head, pro se.

Charles M. Condon, Attorney General, and James G. Bogle, Jr., Senior

Assistant Attorney General, both of Columbia, for complainant.

PER CURIAM: In this attorney disciplinary matter, Respondent Arthur T.

Meeder is charged with misconduct arising out of his representation of a client

while under an order of suspension by this Court. We agree with the finding of

misconduct made by the Interim Review Committee1 of the Board of Commissioners

on Grievances and Discipline ("IRC"). We further agree with the IRC's unanimous

recommendation Respondent be disbarred from the practice of law.

On October 30, 1995, Respondent was suspended from the practice of law for

eleven months.2 The misconduct alleged in the current complaint involves

Respondent's representation of John Bruno. Bruno was also one of the complainants

in the former disciplinary action. See Meeder, 320 S.C. at 84, 463 S.E.2d at 313.

Bruno retained Respondent in June 1995 to resolve some mechanics liens filed

against Bruno's home. This matter was ultimately resolved. 3 Shortly before

Respondent was suspended, Bruno and his wife hired Respondent to represent them

in a lawsuit against their homebuilder to collect damages from alleged construction

defects. Respondent accepted a $2500 retainer for this case (before he was

suspended). After he was suspended, Respondent told Bruno he was working with

another law firm on the case, but did not give the name of the other firm. He showed

Bruno a computer printout of work he performed on the case. Subsequently,

Respondent stopped returning Bruno's calls and refused to see him when Bruno came

to his office. Respondent then closed his office.

Bruno wrote a letter of complaint to the Board of Commissioners on Grievances

and Discipline June 6, 1996. Although Respondent replied to an initial inquiry by the

Board, he failed to respond to numerous inquiries made by the investigating Board

member assigned to the case. When the formal complaint was filed December 4,

1996, Respondent did not file an answer. He was notified the allegations in the

complaint were deemed admitted 4 and there would be no panel hearing unless he

requested to be heard in mitigation. 5 When Respondent failed to request a hearing,

the matter was forwarded to the IRC which unanimously recommended Respondent

be disbarred. 6

DISCUSSION

We find the facts alleged in the complaint, which are deemed admitted, clearly

constitute misconduct. Respondent engaged in the practice of law while under

suspension in violation of Rule 5.5, Rule 407, SCACR. While doing so Respondent

failed to return client phone calls and refused to meet with his client. Such

representation constituted further violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. 7

Respondent has thus committed misconduct in violating the Rules of Professional

Conduct, engaging in conduct tending to pollute the administration of justice or to

bring the legal profession into disrepute; engaging in conduct demonstrating unfitness

to practice law; and engaging in conduct demonstrating a lack of professional

competence in the practice of law. See 5(B), 5(D), 5(E); Rule 413, SCACR. Finally,

Respondent has refused to cooperate with the Board's investigation, constituting an

act of separate misconduct. See In the Matter of Treacy, 277 S.C. 514, 290 S.E.2d

240 (1982); Rule 8.1(b), Rule 407, SCACR.

We find the appropriate sanction in this case is disbarment. This sanction is

consistent with former decisions involving similar misconduct. See, e.g., In the

Matter of Mizzell, _ S.C. 484 S.E.2d 466 (1997) (two year suspension); In the

Matter of Hendricks, 319 S.C. 465, 462 S.E.2d 286 (1995) (disbarment); In the Matter

of Bosserman, 298 S.C. 198, 379 S.E.2d 130 (1989) (disbarment). Although the

Respondent in Mizzell only received a definite suspension, we find the circumstances

here warrant a harsher sanction. In Mizzell, the Respondent had been

administratively suspended for nonpayment of license fees and failure to comply with

CLE requirements. He claimed he did not receive notice of the suspension because

he did not retrieve his mail in a timely fashion, and subsequently paid the fees and

fulfilled the CLE requirements. Here, Respondent was suspended for multiple acts

of client misconduct as opposed to administrative neglect. Additionally, there is no

claim Respondent was not aware of his prior suspension when he continued to

represent Bruno after October 30, 1995.

[I]n the absence of mitigating circumstances, disbarment is appropriate

when a lawyer: -

(a) intentionally or knowingly violates the terms of a prior disciplinary

order and such violation causes injury or potential injury to a client, the

public, the legal system, or the profession; or

(b) has been suspended for the same or similar misconduct, and

intentionally or knowingly engages in further acts of misconduct that

cause injury or potential injury to a client, the public, the legal system,

or the profession.

People v. Redman, 902 P.2d 839, 840 (Colo. 1995) (en banc) (quoting American Bar

Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions § 8.1 (1991 & Supp. 1992)). See also In the

Matter of Israel, 655 N.Y.S.2d 538, 538 (N.Y. App. Div. 1997) ("Continuing to practice

law while under suspension ... warrant[s] immediate disbarment").

"This court's disciplinary orders are not intended to be 'empty noise."' In the

Matter of Larson, 512 N.Y.2d 454, 457 (N.D. 1994) (per curiam). Respondent is

hereby disbarred from the practice of law. Within fifteen days of the date of this

opinion, respondent shall file an affidavit with the Clerk of Court showing he has

complied with Paragraph 30 of Rule 413, SCACR, and shall surrender his certificate

of admission to practice law in this State to the Clerk of Court.

DISBARRED. 1 On January 1, 1997, the Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement became

effective, replacing former Rule 413, SCACR. The order adopting these new Rules

provided any disciplinary case pending under former Rule 413 as of January 1,

1997 would be converted to a procedure established by the Chair of the Commission

on Lawyer Conduct. The Interim Review Committee was created to fulfill the

functions, performed by the Executive Committee under Paragraph 14(a) of the

former Rule on Disciplinary Procedure (Rule 413, SCACR) in those pending cases.

All references to Rule 413, SCACR, will be to the former Rules of Disciplinary

Procedure.

2 In the Matter of Arthur T. Meeder 320 S.C. 82, 463 S.E.2d 312 (1995)

(Respondent failed to exercise the required degree of diligence and competence

demanded of attorneys; failed to communicate with clients; failed to maintain the

integrity of client funds; failed to deliver client funds; failed to surrender client files

upon request; engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and

misrepresentation; and failed to cooperate with the Board of Commissioners on

Grievances and Discipline).

3 Respondent's representation regarding these liens apparently formed part of the

basis for the findings of misconduct in the prior disciplinary action. See Meeder, 320

S.C. at 84, 463 S.E.2d at 313.

4 13(C), Rule 413, SCACR ("In the event the Respondent fails to answer, the

charges shall be deemed admitted").

5 12(B), Rule 413, SCACR ("If no issues of fact are raised by the pleadings, a

hearing shall not be necessary unless the Respondent requests an opportunity to be

heard in mitigation").

6 Respondent did not accept service of the Rule to Show Cause and therefore had

to be hand-served by SLED.

7 Specifically, Respondent has violated Rule 1.1, Rule 407, SCACR (lawyer shall

provide competent representation to a client); Rule 1.3, Rule 407, SCACR (lawyer

shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client); and Rule

1.4, Rule 407, SCACR (lawyer shall keep client reasonably informed about status of

a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information; lawyer shall

explain a matter to extent reasonably necessary to permit client to make informed

decisions regarding representation).