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24862 - In the Matter of Ginger P. Matson

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

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA

In The Supreme Court

In the Matter of Ginger

P. Matson, Respondent.

Opinion No. 24862

Heard October 20, 1998 - Filed Novernber 30, 1998

DEFINITE SUSPENSION

Attorney General Charles M. Condon and Senior

Assistant Attorney General James G. Bogle, Jr., of

Columbia, for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Ginger P. Matson, of Covington, Texas, pro se.





PER CURIAM: In this disciplinary matter, respondent is

charged with engaging in misconduct in violation of various provisions of

the Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement, Rule 413, SCACR (RLDE),

and the Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 407, SCACR.





FACTS







The formal charges include allegations respondent was late for

clients' hearings and settlement conferences and was unprepared for these

hearings; failed to properly serve opposing parties thus delaying the

hearings; failed to finalize documents for clients and failed to send

proposed orders to the family court judge for his approval and signature;

failed to return clients' telephone calls inquiring about the status of their

cases and failed to keep appointments with her clients; lied to a client

about filing a pleading; rendered erroneous advice to a client about a legal

matter causing the client harm; and failed to comply with a discovery

order resulting in prejudice to her client. When respondent was unable to

attend a hearing, respondent's paralegal sent a legal secretary to represent



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In the Matter of Matson





the client and to request a continuance from the judge. Further,

respondent closed her practice in South Carolina and moved to Texas

without notifying her clients. Respondent failed to return files to her

clients and failed to either refund clients their retainer fees or provide

them an accounting of the earned fees. Respondent repeatedly failed to

respond to letters from the Commission on Lawyer Conduct (Commission)

inquiring into these matters.





Respondent did not file an answer to the formal charges.1

Although respondent did not appear at the Commission's subpanel hearing

of the Commission on Lawyer Conduct (Commission) on January 8, 1998,

the subpanel allowed respondent to offer evidence in mitigation by

testifying by telephone. The subpanel found respondent had committed

misconduct and, by a vote of 3 to 1, recommended definitely suspending

respondent for 18 months, retroactive to the date of respondent's interim

suspension,2 with conditions that prior to readmittance: (1) respondent

must pay all the fees owed to her clients pursuant to any order issued by

a Fee Dispute Resolution Committee; (2) respondent must return all client

files to her clients or their new attorneys; and (3) respondent must

cooperate with any attorney appointed by the Supreme Court to protect

her clients' interests.





Respondent did not file exceptions to the subpanel's report.

The full panel adopted this report on June 11, 1998. Respondent failed to

appear for oral argument before this Court.





Because respondent failed to respond to the formal charges or

to appear for oral argument, pursuant to Rule 24, RLDE, respondent is

deemed to have admitted the factual allegations' contained in the formal

charges.





DISCUSSION





The admitted factual allegations of the formal charges fully


1Respondent was suspended on May 15, 1997 for failure to comply

with CLE requirements. On January 7, 1998, this Court placed

respondent on interim suspension.





2 One member recommended a 12-month suspension of respondent.



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In the Matter of Matson





support the conclusion that respondent committed misconduct by violating

RLDE and Rule 407, SCACR. By her various instances of misconduct,

respondent had violated Rule 7, RLDE, by violating the Rules of

Professional Conduct; by engaging in conduct tending to pollute the

administration of justice or bring the court or legal profession into

disrepute or conduct demonstrating an unfitness to practice law; by

violating the oath of office taken upon admission to practice law in this

State; and by knowingly failing, on a number of occasions, to respond to

lawful demands from the Commission and the Office of Disciplinary

Counsel, including a request for a response under Rule 19, RLDE.





Further, she has violated Rule 1.1 (failure to provide

competent representation); Rule 1.4(a) (failure to keep clients reasonably

informed about the status of matters and comply with reasonable requests

for information); Rule 1.2(a) (failure to consult with clients as to the

means by which the client's decisions concerning objectives of

representation were to be pursued); Rule 1.3 (failure to act with

reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client); Rule 1.15

(failure to deliver promptly to a client funds or documents which the client

was entitled to receive and failure to provide an accounting); Rule 1.16(a)

(failure to withdraw from representation of a client if representation would

result in a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct); Rule 1.16(d)

(failure upon termination of representation to take steps to the extent

reasonably practicable to protect the client's interest); Rule 5.3 (failure to

properly supervise a non-lawyer assistant); Rule 5.5 (allowing a non-lawyer

assistant to perform an activity that constituted the unauthorized practice

of law); Rule 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit

or misrepresentation); and Rule 8.4(e) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to

the administration of justice) of Rule 407, SCACR.





In mitigation, these incidents of misconduct occurred during

the time that respondent was regularly traveling to Texas to care for her

ailing parents. Respondent's father died in July 1995 and her mother's

health began to fail. Respondent's mother was diagnosed with cancer in

December 1996 and died in January 1997. Because of these burdens,

respondent became distracted and failed to properly oversee her law

practice. After her mother's death, respondent closed her practice in

South Carolina and moved to Texas.





This Court has the sole authority to discipline attorneys and to

decide the appropriate sanction. Matter of Wofford, ___ S.C. ___, 500

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In the Matter of Matson





S.E.2d 486 (1998). In choosing the appropriate sanction, the Court may

consider circumstances in mitigation. Matter of Marshall, ___ S.C. ___,

498 S.E.2d 869 (1998); Matter of Brown., 286 S.C. 454, 334 S.E.2d 281

(1985).





This Court has imposed a wide range of sanctions in cases

involving such misconduct as neglect of legal matters, failure to return

client's property, failure to communicate with clients, failure to protect

clients' interests when terminating representation, and failure to cooperate

with the Commission. Public reprimands have been imposed in the

following: Matter of Mayer, 325 S.C. 1, 478 S.E.,2d 286 (1996); Matter of

Davis, 321 S.C. 281, 468 S.E.2d 301 (1996); Matter of Larkin, 320 S.C.

512, 466 S.E.2d 355 (1996); Matter of Lynch, 318 S.C. 366, 458 S.E.2d 39

(1995); Matter of Ledford, 317 S.C. 177, 452 S.E.2d 605 (1994); Matter of

Warder, 316 S.C. 249, 449 S.E.2d 489 (1994); Matter of Woodruff 313 S.C.

378, 438 S.E.2d 227 (1993); Matter of Howard, 303 S.C. 278, 400 S.E.2d

138 (1991); Matter of Alexander., 301 S.C. 212, 391 S.E.2d 254 (1990); and

Matter of Nida, 297 S.C. 541, 377 S.E.2d 580 (1989).





Definite suspensions have been imposed in the following cases:

Matter of Holler, 329 S.C. 395, 496 S.E.2d 627 (1998) (30 day suspension

and placed on disability inactive status where attorney admitted nearly all

the allegations against him and offered significant evidence in mitigation);

Matter of Moore, 329 S.C. 294, 494 S.E.2d 804 (1997) (two year

suspension); Matter of Shibley, 320 S.C. 362, 465 S.E.2d 356 (1995) (60

day suspension); Matter of Tootle, 319 S.C. 392, 461 S.E.2d 824 (1995) (4

month suspension); Matter of Chastain 316 S.C. 438, 450 S.E.2d 578

(1994) (2 year suspension); Matter of Ballard, 312 S.C. 227, 439 S.E.2d

846 (1994) (1 year suspension); Matter of Nida 315 S.C. 312, 432 S.E.2d

462 (1993) (9 month suspension); Matter of Acker, 308 S.C. 338, 417

S.E.2d 862 (1992) (6 month suspension); Matter of Palmer, 298 S.C. 324,

380 S.E.2d 813 (1989) (1 year suspension).





In this case, we find the appropriate sanction for respondent's

misconduct is a definite suspension from the practice of law for eighteen

months. In addition, prior to reinstatement respondent shall refund any

unearned fees as determined by a Fee Dispute Resolution Committee.3




3 Because she failed to appear for oral argument before this Court,

respondent is deemed to have agreed to the sanction imposed. Rule 24(b),

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In the Matter of Matson





Respondent shall file, within fifteen (15) days of this opinion, an affidavit

with the clerk of this Court stating she has complied with Rule 30 of Rule

413, SCACR.





DEFINITE SUSPENSION.






RLDE.

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