Ethics Opinions Every South Carolina Attorney Should Know: Part VII, Suborning Perjury or Presenting False Evidence

Attorneys are frequently referred to in case law as officers of the court. “Since attorneys are officers of the court, their conduct, if dishonest, would constitute fraud on the court.” Chewning v. Ford Motor Co., 354 S.C. 72, 579 S.E.2d 605, 611 (2003).  Justice cannot be administered smoothly if lawyers routinely lie to the court or knowingly present the court false evidence.  Thus it is no surprise that when an attorney knowingly presents false evidence or suborns false testimony, that attorney will be subject to discipline.

In the Matter of Calhoun, 347 S.C. 444, 556 S.E.2d 392 (2001), is an ideal case to illustrate this.  Calhoun altered the court date on his copies of the citations in an effort to convince the magistrate to reopen his traffic citations case, thereby presenting false evidence to the court.  In his initial response to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Calhoun denied any wrongdoing and suggested that the prosecuting officer had animosity towards him and may have altered the citations.  He later acknowledged he altered the court date on the citations, implicitly acknowledging that he had lied to the ODC and unfairly impugned the prosecuting officer’s integrity.  Based on Calhoun’s dishonesty to the magistrate and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, he was suspended from the practice of law for eighteen months.

The Supreme Court found Calhoun had violated the following Rules of Professional Conduct:  Rule 3.3 (a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal or offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false);  Rule 8.1(b) (failure to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority);  Rule 8.4(a) (violating the Rules of Professional Conduct);  Rule 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving moral turpitude);  Rule 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation);  and Rule 8.4(e) (a lawyer shall not engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice).

In addition, the Supreme Court found he violated the following Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement:  Rule 7(a)(1) (violating the Rules of Professional Conduct);  Rule 7(a)(3) (willfully violating a valid order of the Commission on Lawyer Conduct); Rule 7(a)(5) (engaging in conduct tending to pollute the administration of justice or bring the legal profession into disrepute);  and Rule 7(a)(6) (violating the oath of office taken upon admission to practice law in this state).

The lessons of Calhoun: don’t lie or present false evidence to the court (or to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel).


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