By Rasmus Jorgenson
The Supreme Court of South Carolina suspended Greenville attorney Darren S. Haley from practicing law after his suspension in Virginia for professional misconduct.
Haley had a disciplinary history in Virginia and South Carolina, as well as North Carolina, where he is not admitted to practice law. The South Carolina Supreme Court suspended his practice for a month in 2005 for misconduct that included not returning unearned fees, not pursuing several client matters, losing a client file, trying to establish personal relationships with female clients and failing to respond to Office of Disciplinary Counsel inquiries. In Virginia, he was privately reprimanded by the state bar in 2009 for having insufficient funds in his trust account to honor five checks.
The North Carolina issue arose when Haley submitted a pro hac vice application in 2017 but did not disclose the previous disciplinary actions against him. During North Carolina’s disciplinary investigation, Haley again did not disclose his disciplinary history when filing a pro hac vice motion in a federal court in New York. In 2019, the North Carolina State Bar reprimanded Haley for failing to disclose, and South Carolina followed suit. Despite being required to do so, Haley did not notify the Virginia State Bar of the discipline. He later said he thought North Carolina reported their actions to Virginia.
That same year, he overdrew his trust account in Virginia, triggering a disciplinary investigation revealing that he had engaged in a pervasive pattern of financial misconduct, including regularly depositing unearned fees into his operating account, using his trust account to pay for personal and business expenses and overdrawing his trust account at least twice and his law firm operating account 53 times between Jan. 1, 2018, and April 20, 2020.
Haley also made misleading statements about a client living in South Carolina rather than Virginia, as South Carolina allows nonrefundable legal fees while Virginia does not. The Virginia State Bar concluded Haley intentionally lied about the client’s residence to skirt repercussions. The bar’s disciplinary board found that Haley violated numerous rules of professional conduct, including not informing the bar of his North Carolina discipline, and imposed an 18-month definite suspension, which the Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed in August 2022.
The South Carolina Bar received notice of the Virginia suspension in September 2022. Under the rules concerning reciprocal discipline, a lawyer disciplined in another state will generally receive identical discipline in South Carolina unless he or she can make the case that such punishment would be unwarranted.
Haley argued he should only receive a six-month suspension in South Carolina because the state bar had already punished him for the nondisclosures in the North Carolina pro hac vice application, which he claimed formed the basis of a significant part of the 18-month Virginia suspension.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel countered that, while South Carolina did sanction Haley for those nondisclosures, the Virginia suspension also concerned Haley’s dishonesty in not reporting the North Carolina discipline to the Virginia State Bar.
At the June hearing before the Supreme Court, Haley abandoned his claim that a six-month suspension would be appropriate. The court then found no reason to justify a different discipline than what was given in Virginia. Haley’s 18-month suspension was retroactive to Sept. 20, 2022, when the ODC received the notice of discipline in Virginia.
Justice John Cannon Few, the sole dissenter from the majority opinion authored by Chief Justice Donald W. Beaty, argued the court’s decision was not harsh enough.
Citing Haley’s extensive disciplinary history and the Supreme Court of Virginia’s finding that Haley engaged in a long pattern of dishonest conduct in multiple jurisdictions, Few said the South Carolina court would have never considered just 18 months if not because this case arose as reciprocal discipline.
The Supreme Court can impose a different discipline if the misconduct warrants substantially different discipline in this state, Few said, quoting Rule 29(d) of the Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement. While he did not say what discipline he would find appropriate, Fox said he would impose a penalty corresponding to the severity of Haley’s misconduct.
“I thought the South Carolina Bar was fair,” Haley said.
He explained the reason he withdrew the claim that he should only receive a six-month suspension is that he is not sure he wants to continue practicing law.
“At the time when I filed this, I was still contemplating practicing, but I haven’t practiced since ’22. So, at that point, it really wasn’t a lot to fight about,” he said. “My suspension has been over in Virginia for six, seven months, and I have yet to even file the paperwork to get reinstated. I had started shutting down to go into other directions three or four years ago, before this ever happened.”
The case is In re: Haley, 2022-001523.