605 S.E.2d 532 (S.C. 2004), 25889, In re Hart

Docket Nº:25889.
Citation:605 S.E.2d 532, 361 S.C. 392
Party Name:361 S.C. 392 In the Matter of Michael V. HART, Respondent.
Case Date:November 08, 2004
Court:Supreme Court of South Carolina
 
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Page 532

605 S.E.2d 532 (S.C. 2004)

361 S.C. 392

In the Matter of Michael V. HART, Respondent.

No. 25889.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Nov. 8, 2004.

Submitted Oct. 8, 2004

Henry B. Richardson, Jr., Disciplinary Counsel, and Barbara M. Seymour, Senior Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, both of Columbia, for Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Desa A. Ballard, of West Columbia, for respondent.

PER CURIAM:

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) and respondent have entered into an Agreement

Page 533

for Discipline by Consent pursuant to Rule 21, RLDE, Rule 413, SCACR, in which respondent admits misconduct and agrees to either an admonition or a public reprimand. We accept the agreement and issue a public reprimand. The facts, as set forth in the agreement, are as follows.

FACTS 1

Matter I

Respondent was admitted to practice law in 1988. Until approximately March 2003, respondent worked for several law firms, primarily representing plaintiffs or claimants. From March 2003 through April 2004, respondent operated a solo practice in which he handled personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis.

In connection with his solo practice, respondent failed to maintain accurate or complete client ledgers, a check register or accounting journal, monthly account reconciliations, or any other system to facilitate the reliable identification of clients who had funds in his accounts and the balance of those funds. During that same period, respondent failed to maintain copies or originals of checks written on his operating or trust account. Respondent relied primarily on check stubs, on-line banking, and his own recollection to monitor the flow of funds through his accounts. As a result, respondent was unable to identify client funds remaining in accounts at any given point in time.

It was respondent's practice to deposit a client settlement check into his trust account, confirm that the check had cleared, and then electronically transfer the funds from the trust account to his operating account. Respondent then disbursed funds to and on behalf of clients from the operating account. This practice was based on respondent's erroneous belief that his former employer, a more experienced attorney, processed settlements in this matter.

Respondent left a portion of his fees from client settlements in his trust account as a cushion. Respondent's...

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