In re Berger (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-037-14, 9 pp.) (Per Curiam) S.C. S. Ct.
Holding: A Florida lawyer, who is not admitted to practice law in South Carolina, nevertheless represented vulnerable clients in South Carolina, doing so carelessly but while continuing to draft his fees from their checking accounts, and then he failed to respond to this disciplinary action; in doing so, he violated multiple Rules of Professional Conduct.
Respondent is permanently debarred from seeking admission to practice law in this state (including pro hac vice admission) without first obtaining permission from this court. We further order respondent to fully reimburse all fees and costs paid by the clients in this matter and to pay the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of this matter within 30 days.
Since Rule 2(q) of the Rules of Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement defines “lawyer” to include “a lawyer not admitted in this jurisdiction if the lawyer provides or offers to provide any legal services in this jurisdiction,” respondent is subject to discipline in this state.
We find respondent’s misconduct particularly egregious. Although not admitted to practice law in South Carolina, respondent nevertheless represented clients in South Carolina. He or his firm provided advice to clients and prepared and filed pleadings, some of which were frivolous, on behalf of his clients. Although he prepared and filed motions, respondent neglected to attend the motion hearings. Moreover, respondent charged and collected unreasonable fees from clients for the minimal work he did perform and then continued to collect fees from clients even after his representation ceased.
When disciplinary charges were filed against him, respondent ignored the matter.
We also find several aggravating factors.
First, respondent undertook the representation of vulnerable clients, individuals who had financial difficulties and faced the prospects of losing their homes to foreclosure.
Second, respondent failed to cooperate in the disciplinary investigation and to appear for the hearing.
Third, respondent received a public reprimand from the Supreme Court of Florida in 2003. The Florida Supreme Court sanctioned respondent for failing to provide competent representation, failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client, and failing to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit a client to make informed decisions regarding representation. Respondent has committed the same misconduct in the current matter.
Respondent may not seek admission to practice in South Carolina and must reimburse his S.C. clients, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, and the Commission on Lawyer Conduct.