THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Supreme Court
In the Matter of Anonymous Member of the South Carolina Bar, Respondent.
Opinion No. 25346
Heard June 6, 2000 - Filed August 20, 2001
PER CURIAM: As the result of our consideration of an attorney disciplinary matter in which an attorney was charged with commission of misconduct based on alleged discovery abuse, for the benefit of the bar we take this opportunity to address a senior attorney's duty to supervise junior attorneys and attorney conduct in depositions.
A. Overview of Rule 5.1
Rule 5.1 (2) governs the responsibilities of partners and lawyers who, directly or indirectly, supervise other lawyers. Attorneys in South Carolina do not have "vicarious liability" (3) for the ethical violations of other attorneys. However, vicarious liability is not the issue when a supervised attorney violates the Rules of Professional Conduct. The issue is whether the supervising attorney violated Rule 5.1 by failing to satisfy the ethical responsibilities of a partner or supervisory lawyer in relation to the other supervised attorney's misconduct. If an attorney fails to satisfy the supervisory requirements of Rule 5.1 by actions or omissions, that attorney violates the Rules of Professional Conduct and can be sanctioned completely separate from any sanction issued for the underlying actions or omissions of the supervised attorney.
Rule 5.1 addresses three different levels of supervision. First, under Rule 5.1(c), attorneys will be responsible for another lawyer's violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct if they ratify or fail to mitigate known misconduct committed by an attorney they supervise. Second, under Rule 5.1(b), attorneys with "direct supervisory authority" over another attorney who violates the Rules of Professional Conduct will be disciplined if they failed to "make reasonable efforts" in their supervision. Attorneys can be sanctioned under Rule 5.1(b) even if they had no knowledge of the supervised attorney's inappropriate behavior. Lastly, under Rule 5.1(a), partners in a law firm have a generalized duty to put into place systematic measures to help prevent attorney misconduct.