THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In the Supreme Court
In the Matter of Arthur T.
Opinion No. 24663
Heard June 4, 1997 - Filed August 4, 1997
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
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
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).