No more Mr. Nice Guy

Posted Thursday, February 16th, 2012 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys, Rules of Professional (Lawyer) Conduct, South Carolina Appellate Decisions, South Carolina Specific

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.

10 thoughts on No more Mr. Nice Guy

  1. David Wilson says:

    Things are getting out of control.

  2. I do not really know Bill Mayer but I had a case in 2003-04 in which he represented the adverse party. He seemed nice enough and competent.

    One of the lessons from this opinion is that lawyers should never attempt to represent themselves, particularly in disciplinary proceedings. Most lawyers subscribe to the old saying that “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Most lawyers with a domestic problem hire a domestic lawyer. Most lawyers with criminal problems hire a criminal lawyer. For some reason, lawyers who have grievances filed aginst them seem to think that they can represent themselves, although the grievance procedure is much more specialized, complicated, and difficult than either domestic relations or criminal law.

    I enjoy the work when I represent other lawyers in grievance proceedings. I would never attempt to represent myself. Even if one want to write one’s own initial response to the South Carolina Commission on Lawyer Conduct, he or she should have that response reviewed by a lawyer familiar and experienced with the process.

  3. MJ says:

    Interesting. Under this theory, if I give my husband legal advice, am I in trouble?

    1. Depends on your marriage. Many long-married women I know aren’t having any sex. Some aren’t having sex with their husbands. If you fall in either category, no worries…

      1. JBL says:

        Love this answer, Greg!

        1. MJ Goodwin says:

          Funny. I think all of us could use that as another reason to “have a headache”. I am seriously inquiring though. What about giving legal advice to a spouse? Or an old flame? Or the current girlfriend of an old flame? (In the AIDS prevention ads, it claims you have had sex with everyone who has sex with you….).

  4. I thought the rule was that one could never have sexual relations with a client once representation had begun and never after either.

    1. MJ Goodwin says:

      So we should never represent anyone that we might later fall in love with any marry?

  5. MJ Goodwin says:

    And about the money. What if I handle my mother’s money not as an attorney but as her daughter? What if I write checks for my brother’s rental houses?

  6. Comment 21 to Rule 1.8(m), RPC would seem to give lawyers safe harbor when representing their spouses: “Except in a few, limited circumstances, such as when the lawyer and client are married to each other, a sexual relationship between lawyer and client presents a significant danger of harm to client interests and should be avoided.”

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