S.C. Legal System Stacked Against Laymen
By Paul Gable
There seems to be a de facto informal system within the S. C. legal system whereby officers of the court protect each other regardless of what laws, regulations and the code of conduct require.
Those of you who have served in the military, especially the Army, may be familiar with the term West Point Protection Association.
This was a term derisively used, especially during the Vietnam War, to describe an informal system whereby West Point graduates protected the records of each other regardless of rank or other considerations. One West Pointer protected another regardless of what actually happened in the field.
The same type of protection seems to be going on in S.C. Courts with respect to judges and the attorneys who appear before them.
One example, with respect to moneys paid to attorneys that represented the plaintiffs in the Southern Holdings case, Case No. 02-CV-01859-RBH, is outlined below.
Attorneys John Rakowsky and Adrian Falgione, who represented the plaintiffs in the Southern Holdings case, have been in a four-year fight to not provide the plaintiffs with an accounting of how money provided for litigation of the case was spent.
After the Southern Holdings case was “settled” in court in May 2007, the plaintiffs tried to get a full accounting of the money they had provided to their attorneys Rakowsky and Falgione.
Such a “full accounting” is required under Rule 1.15 of the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct. Additionally, the scope of a “full accounting” is defined under Rule 417 of the South Carolina Judicial Department. A full accounting as defined under Rule 417 is exactly what was requested by the Defendants.
The following are extracts of Rule 1.15 and Rule 417
Rule 417 S C Judicial Code
a) receipt and disbursement journals containing a record of deposits to and withdrawals from client trust accounts, specifically identifying the date, source, and description of each item deposited, as well as the date, payee, and purpose of each disbursement
b) ledger records for all client trust accounts showing, for each separate trust client or beneficiary, the source of all funds deposited, the names of all persons for whom the funds are or were held, the amount of such funds, the descriptions and amounts of charges or withdrawals, and the names of all persons or entities to whom such funds were disbursed;
Records required by Rule 1 shall be readily accessible and shall be readily available to be produced upon request of a client or third person who has an interest as provided in Rule 1.15 of the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct,
Personally identifying information in records produced upon request of a client, third person, or disciplinary authority shall remain confidential and shall be disclosed only in a manner to ensure client confidentiality as otherwise required by law or court rule.
Rule 1.15 S C Code of Professional Conduct
(a) A lawyer shall hold property of clients or third persons that is in a lawyer’s possession in connection with a representation separate from the lawyer’s own property
(c) A lawyer shall deposit into a client trust account unearned legal fees and expenses that have been paid in advance, to be withdrawn by the lawyer only as fees are earned or expenses incurred.
(d) Upon receiving funds or other property in which a client or third person has an interest, a lawyer shall promptly notify the client or third person. Except as stated in this rule or otherwise permitted by law or by agreement with the client, a lawyer shall promptly deliver to the client or third person any funds or other property that the client or third person is entitled to receive and, upon request by the client or third person, shall promptly render a full accounting regarding such property.
Through nearly four years of motions and several hearings, no judge, in contradiction to S.C. law, has required Rakowsky and Falgione to provide an accounting of the funds provided to them for litigation of the Southern Holdings case.
One judge has even ruled that the trust account for Southern Holdings is “privileged financial information” of Falgione and Rakowsky. You can see, by the above quoted laws, such a ruling is absolutely ridiculous.
But rulings just as absurd as the one above are made every day in the S.C. Court System. There is no independent oversight to insure professional standards or the rules of criminal or civil procedure are adhered to in court. It is all run more on the system of an old boys club where lawyers and judges decide in the back room what the outcome of a case will be, especially if it involves one of their own.
An interesting article on the selection process for judges appeared recently in “The Nerve”. View it at: