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24721 - In the Matter of M. Leonard Ledford

Davis Adv. Sh. No. 34
S.E. 2d


THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA

In The Supreme Court

In the Matter of M. Leonard Ledford, Respondent.

Opinion No. 24721

Heard October 7, 1997 - Filed December 8, 1997

DISBARRED

Attorney General Charles Molony Condon, and Assistant

Deputy Attorney General J. Emory Smith, Jr., both of

Columbia, for complainant.

Eugene C. Covington, Jr., of Covington, Patrick, Hagins

& Lewis, P.A., of Greenville, for respondent.

PER CURIAM: This is an attorney disciplinary matter.

Respondent is charged with forging the name of another attorney and

misappropriating client funds from his trust account. Respondent admits

the underlying actions constituting misconduct. The Panel found

respondent committed misconduct and recommended he be disbarred. We

agree.

In December 1994 following the issuance of a public reprimand

for misconduct, the title insurance company for which respondent had

issued insurance polices ended its agency relationship with respondent.

Unable to write title insurance policies, respondent asked another attorney

(Attorney) to write the insurance policies for him. In June 1995, the title

insurance company not only denied respondent's application to become an

agent but also removed respondent from its list of approved settlement

attorneys. On June 28th, the insurance company directed Attorney not to


Respondent received a public reprimand following a conditional

admission for various misconduct including failing to act on various legal

matters and not cooperating with the Board. In re Ledford, 317 S.C. 177,

452 S.E.2d 605 (1994).

p. 9


IN THE MATTER OF LEDFORD

issue any more policies with respondent as the settlement attorney after

June 30th. One closing was not completed prior to this date. Respondent

told the mortgage company Attorney was handling the closing when

respondent knew he was not. After discovering Attorney was aware of his

actions, respondent then asked Attorney to sign the documents as the

closing attorney. Attorney refused and contacted the Grievance Committee

and the title insurance company. The closing took place with respondent

as the closing attorney and with the title insurance's knowledge and

approval.

Respondent also forged Attorney's name on two checks and

several of the closing papers involved in the refinancing of real estate.

The real estate transactions involved the refinancing property for

respondent's wife, Anne Marie Ledford.

In July 1995, respondent forged Attorney's signature on a

check for proceeds from the refinancing of property for his wife. Several

months later in May 1996, respondent handled the refinancing of another

piece of real estate for his wife. He, however, used Attorney's name as

the closing attorney. Exhibit C-11 is a "Final Report on Title of Ann

Marie L. Ledford" dated May 28, 1996, which was submitted to the lending

institution. It appears to be on letterhead of Attorney. Respondent forged

this entire document and Attorney's signature on it. He even went so far

as to create a letterhead for Attorney at the top of the document.

Respondent then forged Attorney's name on the check distributed as a

result of the refinancing.

As to the misappropriation of funds, respondent withdrew

$83,275 from his trust account to secure the down payment on three

rental houses between July 1995 and January 1996 as a personal

investment. Respondent sought permanent financing for these rental

properties but he was unable to obtain it. Portions of the money were

deposited back into the trust account in March and September 1996. On

January 10, 1997, twelve days prior to the Panel Hearing, respondent

testified he repaid the entire amount. The money represented the float

from the various loan closings he had handled.


Restitution was indicated but not proven because an extensive audit

would have to be performed to prove restitution. Respondent testified he

actually deposited an additional $13,000 to make sure he covered all of the

money he had withdrawn and to cover the 59 nonsufficient funds charges

that his withdrawal had caused.

p. 10


IN THE MATTER OF LEDFORD

Respondent contends disbarment is too harsh a sanction to

impose for his misconduct. He contends a definite suspension would be an

appropriate sanction because this misconduct is very uncharacteristic of

his legal career and occurred over a six-month period. Respondent

dismisses the fact that this misconduct occurred within a year of

respondent receiving a public reprimand.

As far as the misappropriation of the trust fund account,

respondent contends that his conduct was not egregious because no clients

were injured and he repaid the money. We disagree. While things may

have turned out that way for respondent, they could have just as easily

not. In any event, respondent's actions are not excused by his assertion

that the acts did not harm a client. In re Gregory, 306 S.C. 270, 411

S.E.2d 430 (1991).

Respondent has violated Rule 1.15 of the Rules of Professional

Conduct, Rule 407, SCACR, by failing to safeguard and preserve the

identity of client funds. Respondent has also violated Rule 8.4 by

engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and

misrepresentation, and by engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the

administration of justice.

It is our opinion that respondent's misconduct warrants

disbarment. It is therefore ordered that respondent shall be disbarred

from the practice of law in this state. Within fifteen days of the date of

this opinion, respondent shall file an affidavit with the Clerk of Court

showing that he has complied with Paragraph 30 of Rule 413, SCACR, and

shall surrender his certificate of admission to the Clerk of Court.

C.J.

A.J.

A.J.

A.J.

A.J.

p. 11