No more Mr. Nice Guy

So far in the month of February, 2012 the South Carolina Supreme Court has issued six decisions, five of which were attorney disciplinary opinions.  While the bar needs to investigate and discipline incompetent or dishonest attorneys, I have no idea why the Supreme Court decided to issue a February 15, 2012 public reprimand in In the Matter of William G. Mayer, 396 S.C. 515, 722 S.E.2d 800 (2012).

This public reprimand was over two violations of the rules of professional conduct.  The first violation was for having a sexual relationship with a former and future client during a time when that person wasn’t his client.  Mayer represented this widow of a former client from March through July 2003 and from June 2006 through February 2007.  The sexual relationship lasted from late fall 2003 through early spring 2004.  This was before Rule 1.8(m), RPC, which generally banned attorneys from starting sexual relationship with clients, went into effect.

So what did Mayer do wrong? From time to time during the period they had a sexual relationship he give this widow legal advice on a variety of matters.  Giving free advice to non-clients about their minor legal matters is as much a part of a lawyer’s life as cocktail party talk about aches and pains is to a doctor’s life.  If attorneys can’t give free legal advice to folks with whom they are involved in a sexual relationship without running afoul of the rules of professional conduct, we are either going to need to take a vow of silence or a vow of celibacy.

The second violation was for handling funds of a family friend who his wife (also an attorney) was representing.  The friend asked him to handle her money and had an independent attorney draft a trust agreement naming him as trustee.  His wife disbursed her client’s funds to Mayer.  He also loaned this friend money, without charging interest. The Supreme Court admits he “demonstrated that he made payments to or on behalf of [this woman] equal to the amount of funds received on her behalf and that no funds were missing.”  However he didn’t keep good or contemporaneous records of the handling of her funds.  The opinion refers to this woman as “Client B,” even though Mayer appears to have had no attorney-client relationship with her.  It reprimands him because he didn’t handle these funds with the formality required of an attorney handling client funds under Rule 417, SCACR.  Is there some rule stating that an attorney handling a friend’s money has to treat it with the formality of a client’s money?  If so, I’ve never seen it.

Basically Mayer was reprimanded for giving free legal advice to someone with whom he had a sexual relationship and for handling a friend’s money without treating it with the formality of client funds.  Mayer should start taking counsel from rock genius, Alice Cooper: No More Mr. Nice Guy.

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