Davis Adv. Sh. No. 34
THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Supreme Court
In the Matter of M. Leonard Ledford, Respondent.
Opinion No. 24721
Heard October 7, 1997 - Filed December 8, 1997
Attorney General Charles Molony Condon, and Assistant
Deputy Attorney General J. Emory Smith, Jr., both of
Columbia, for complainant.
Eugene C. Covington, Jr., of Covington, Patrick, Hagins
& Lewis, P.A., of Greenville, for respondent.
PER CURIAM: This is an attorney disciplinary matter.
Respondent is charged with forging the name of another attorney and
misappropriating client funds from his trust account. Respondent admits
the underlying actions constituting misconduct. The Panel found
respondent committed misconduct and recommended he be disbarred. We
In December 1994 following the issuance of a public reprimand
for misconduct, the title insurance company for which respondent had
issued insurance polices ended its agency relationship with respondent.
Unable to write title insurance policies, respondent asked another attorney
(Attorney) to write the insurance policies for him. In June 1995, the title
insurance company not only denied respondent's application to become an
agent but also removed respondent from its list of approved settlement
attorneys. On June 28th, the insurance company directed Attorney not to
Respondent received a public reprimand following a conditional
admission for various misconduct including failing to act on various legal
matters and not cooperating with the Board. In re Ledford, 317 S.C. 177,
452 S.E.2d 605 (1994).
IN THE MATTER OF LEDFORD
issue any more policies with respondent as the settlement attorney after
June 30th. One closing was not completed prior to this date. Respondent
told the mortgage company Attorney was handling the closing when
respondent knew he was not. After discovering Attorney was aware of his
actions, respondent then asked Attorney to sign the documents as the
closing attorney. Attorney refused and contacted the Grievance Committee
and the title insurance company. The closing took place with respondent
as the closing attorney and with the title insurance's knowledge and
Respondent also forged Attorney's name on two checks and
several of the closing papers involved in the refinancing of real estate.
The real estate transactions involved the refinancing property for
respondent's wife, Anne Marie Ledford.
In July 1995, respondent forged Attorney's signature on a
check for proceeds from the refinancing of property for his wife. Several
months later in May 1996, respondent handled the refinancing of another
piece of real estate for his wife. He, however, used Attorney's name as
the closing attorney. Exhibit C-11 is a "Final Report on Title of Ann
Marie L. Ledford" dated May 28, 1996, which was submitted to the lending
institution. It appears to be on letterhead of Attorney. Respondent forged
this entire document and Attorney's signature on it. He even went so far
as to create a letterhead for Attorney at the top of the document.
Respondent then forged Attorney's name on the check distributed as a
result of the refinancing.
As to the misappropriation of funds, respondent withdrew
$83,275 from his trust account to secure the down payment on three
rental houses between July 1995 and January 1996 as a personal
investment. Respondent sought permanent financing for these rental
properties but he was unable to obtain it. Portions of the money were
deposited back into the trust account in March and September 1996. On
January 10, 1997, twelve days prior to the Panel Hearing, respondent
testified he repaid the entire amount. The money represented the float
from the various loan closings he had handled.
Restitution was indicated but not proven because an extensive audit
would have to be performed to prove restitution. Respondent testified he
actually deposited an additional $13,000 to make sure he covered all of the
money he had withdrawn and to cover the 59 nonsufficient funds charges
that his withdrawal had caused.
IN THE MATTER OF LEDFORD
Respondent contends disbarment is too harsh a sanction to
impose for his misconduct. He contends a definite suspension would be an
appropriate sanction because this misconduct is very uncharacteristic of
his legal career and occurred over a six-month period. Respondent
dismisses the fact that this misconduct occurred within a year of
respondent receiving a public reprimand.
As far as the misappropriation of the trust fund account,
respondent contends that his conduct was not egregious because no clients
were injured and he repaid the money. We disagree. While things may
have turned out that way for respondent, they could have just as easily
not. In any event, respondent's actions are not excused by his assertion
that the acts did not harm a client. In re Gregory, 306 S.C. 270, 411
S.E.2d 430 (1991).
Respondent has violated Rule 1.15 of the Rules of Professional
Conduct, Rule 407, SCACR, by failing to safeguard and preserve the
identity of client funds. Respondent has also violated Rule 8.4 by
engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and
misrepresentation, and by engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the
administration of justice.
It is our opinion that respondent's misconduct warrants
disbarment. It is therefore ordered that respondent shall be disbarred
from the practice of law in this state. Within fifteen days of the date of
this opinion, respondent shall file an affidavit with the Clerk of Court
showing that he has complied with Paragraph 30 of Rule 413, SCACR, and
shall surrender his certificate of admission to the Clerk of Court.