Ethics Opinions Every South Carolina Attorney Should Know: Part I, Ignoring the Office of Disciplinary Counsel

In the Matter of Patrick E. Treacy, 77 S.C. 514, 290 S.E.2d 240 (1982) may be the most cited disciplinary opinion in all of South Carolina law.  Despite both the Hearing Panel and the Executive Committee of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline recommending that Treacy be publicly reprimanded, the South Carolina Supreme Court indefinitely suspended him.  This harsh sanction was largely due to Treacy’s failure to respond to request for information from the disciplinary board.

Under the current Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement (South Carolina Appellate Court Rule 413) a lawyer has fifteen days from receipt of a “notice of investigation” from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to file a written response.  Rule 19(b), Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement.  Failure to respond timely to the notice of investigation results in a “Treacy letter” being sent to the attorney.  See e.g., In Re Pennington, 380 S.C. 49, 668 S.E.2d 402, 404 (2008).  Under Rule 7.3(d) of the Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement:

It shall be a ground for discipline for a lawyer to …willfully violate a valid order of the Supreme Court, Commission or panels of the Commission in a proceeding under these rules, willfully fail to appear personally as directed, willfully fail to comply with a subpoena issued under these rules, or knowingly fail to respond to a lawful demand from a disciplinary authority to include a request for a response or appearance under Rule 19(b)(1), (c)(3) or (c)(4).

Merely ignoring a “notice of investigation” from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel is, in itself, a violation of the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct and gives rise to discipline even if the underlying grievance had no merit.

The lesson of Treacy: don’t ignore the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

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  • Greg, this is excellent advice. I would also counsel a mentee to hire a lawyer immediately upon receipt of a letter for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel with a complaint. I have helped many lawyers with responses to Office of Disciplinary Counsel. The responses written by the respondent lawyer tend to be much too long, recite irrelevant details, overly defensive, often inapporpropritely going on the offense, and sometimes contain facts that would be a ground for a separate grievance. Once one hires a lawyer and that lawyer makes an appearance with Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the burden is then on the respondent’s lawyer, not the respondent, to meet deadlines. Office of Disciplinary Counsel can be quite unforgiving about deadlines.

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