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
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.
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
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
The admitted factual allegations of the formal charges fully
with CLE requirements. On January 7, 1998, this Court placed
respondent on interim suspension.
2 One member recommended a 12-month suspension of respondent.
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
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
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
respondent is deemed to have agreed to the sanction imposed. Rule 24(b),
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