ABA Journal


Legal Ethics

Lack of an email address leads to disciplinary trouble for a South Carolina lawyer

Oct 24, 2013, 10:45 am CDT


“As a result of her persistent refusal to comply with this court's directives, the court finds respondent poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the public and to the administration of justice,” the court said.

Is the suspension based on Holmes' refusal to comply with Court directives, or her failure to have an email address. The above language makes it look like the former but your headline implies (but does not literally say) the latter. I take it the definition of "client" in South Carolina does not include oneself. Otherwise, Holmes has had at least one major client in the last 30 years. That may only be the tip of the iceberg, however. A quick Google search turns up a number of other South Carolina cases within the last five years in which a Cynthia T. Holmes has been listed as an attorney for one of the parties, and a Cynthia T. Holmes has been party herself in a number of other legal proceedings in the state. One gets the sense that there is a lot more to this story.

By Pushkin on 2013 10 24, 11:35 am CDT

This looks like a "message" case: a statement to other lawyers that the court means business about its rules and this email business. Use of her email popped up an automatic reply directing a user to the printed lawyer directory -- a lawyer "phone book," so to speak. Seems like this lawyer was bascally saying "___-you" to the court about its rule. Not a good idea.

By JImB on 2013 10 24, 1:02 pm CDT

Unconstitutional :)

If you don't have to show a photo ID to vote, you do not need an email to practice law

By tim17 on 2013 10 24, 1:47 pm CDT

She obviously is a solo .

By Docile Jim Brady – Columbus OH 43209 on 2013 10 24, 2:39 pm CDT

@3 Are you joking?

Being a lawyer is not an essential right. This is why they can require you to have a bar card to do it.

By Hooraytheist on 2013 10 24, 2:40 pm CDT

Right on #5. Being a lawyer is not a right at all.

By Old Lawyer on 2013 10 24, 3:47 pm CDT

In most states, a mailing address where you can also be personally served with process is enough. Yes, it may seem like a minor issue to require an e-mail address. But people's e-mails tend to change--particularly if they have been victims of identity theft, or switch cable/internet providers. In addition, there are plenty of reasons why people might retire before age 65--such as disabilities--which incidentally, are none of the State Bar's damn business if they don't affect your practice of law, or if you no longer practice law.

“As a result of her persistent refusal to comply with this court’s directives, the court finds respondent poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the public and to the administration of justice,”

This is the most asinine piece of non-sequitur I have ever seen in a legal decision! As penance, everyone involved in this decision should be forced to brief the history and application of the phrases "substantial threat of serious harm to the public" and "administration of justice" under South Carolina's interpretation of pertinent Constitutional law, in the fervent hope that they will never be misapplied for such specious reasons again. At the very least, such rulings cheapen the process; at their worst, they are an abuse of power.

By BMF on 2013 10 24, 3:49 pm CDT

There must be more to this. And by the way, for those who are new to email, an autoreply is actual confirmation that the email address is active, valid and operational, not the opposite.

By Dr Phun on 2013 10 24, 4:22 pm CDT

Is this an example of Bre'r Rabbit pleading with Bre'r Fox to throw him into the briar patch?

I can't imagine why Ms. Collie would oppose being suspended or disbarred, if she in fact has not been practicing law in over 30 years. Take her name off the rolls, for Pete's sake.

According to the article, she cannot formally elect "retired" status until age 65, and even then, the rules provide that retired lawyers must still provide an email address. What if you don't want to?

Perhaps she found the one way around the rule -- don't provide an email, and then they will throw you out, and then you will not have to provide an email because you are not "retired," you are suspended.

It reminds me of the movie "Five Easy Pieces," and the Jack Nicholson character's method of ordering toast from a restaurant where toast was not on the menu and the waitress refused to deviate from the menu -- I'll have a chicken salad sandwich on toast, hold the chicken salad.

By Mike J on 2013 10 24, 4:27 pm CDT

@7 & 9: As #1 pointed out, Ms. Holmes appears to be active as a lawyer regardless of her claims of not having any clients.

By Tyrone on 2013 10 24, 4:46 pm CDT

@1, I believe those cases are ones in which she represented herself. I read some of the documents in the underlying case; that is a case in which Holmes, who is also a practicing physician, sued her former law firm for legal malpractice. She represented herself.

By Yuck on 2013 10 24, 5:37 pm CDT

This makes me sick. Email rules are all about saving money on the side of the sender, ignoring that there are many people for whom receiving by email is impractical. People with ADD, for instance, may need to stay off the internet because of how it affects performance for the rest of the day once they fall into its hypnotic trance. The worst part of this decision though is how the court says she is required to check her email routinely even if she never uses it for any other purpose than receiving information from the bar or court. This is bondage and should be unconstitutional. It puts the entire burden on the recipient who cannot know in advance when the bar desires to communicate so that she would have to check daily just in case this one entity emails her just so that the bar/court has no cost in sending something in regular mail. I hope some brave souls do sue over this. I applaud her efforts!

By Santana on 2013 10 24, 7:21 pm CDT

I am a South Carolina licensed attorney, but have neither lived nor practiced in South Carolina for decades. I kept my status "Retired/Inactive" for all this time because I plan to return home for retirement, if not sooner, and will have taken too many bar exams to be allowed to take the South Carolina one again. Yes, there is a limit on the number!

The e-mail requirement is irksome to me in part because it means there is yet another entity out there with my information, and this entity can be hacked. From my bar information, a hacker can get all kinds of information, including my SSN and my fingerprints, for pity's sake, and do what hackers do. Considering that hacking of professional societies is on the upswing, this concerns me. I anticipate a federal task force for the bar association which will be like the one just appointed to figure out how to keep college and university computer networks safe from hacking. Can you say your FAFSA information goes to the highest bidder?

By Okra on 2013 10 24, 7:38 pm CDT

The opinion:

By Paul the Magyar on 2013 10 24, 10:36 pm CDT

Allow me to ask what I think everyone is wondering: there's internet in South Carolina?!

By NoleLaw on 2013 10 25, 1:19 pm CDT

So, if I get it right, assuming that the only cases Ms Holmes has appeared before courts in South Carolina are those in which she is a litigant, the South Carolina supreme court thinks it can order all litigants to get and use email addresses?
According to the decision, Holmes was in court as a litigant represented by counsel and the during oral arguments (!) the court inquired OF HER ATTORNEY whether Holmes was admitted to the South Carolina bar and when it was acknowledged that she was the court raised the issue of Holmes not having an updated email address on file. So, someone on the court/related to the court had done its own research and the court was bringing up sua sponte this "new evidence" during oral argument! According to the decision, "Thereafter, the Chief Justice stated respondent was not properly registered with AIS and verbally directed counsel and respondent to update AIS to provide an operational email account for respondent."
Geez, Louise, the CHIEF JUSTICE inserts into oral argument the issue of a litigant's compliance or non-compliance with a rule about email address, AND directs that litigant's counsel AND the litigant to get an operational email address?
This is pretty outrageous! Doesn't give one a lot of confidence in decisions rendered by the South Carolina Supreme Court or that such decisions aren't affected by information/evidence outside of the appellate briefings.

By Vermont Lawyer on 2013 10 25, 2:51 pm CDT

Being a lawyer means having to comply with the rules whether you like them or not, even if they are inconvenient. In Colorado, attorneys must electronically file all court pleadings. This requires you to have an computer, internet access, email and register with the efile service. Some attorneys objected at this requirement, stating you should not have to subject yourself to this newfangled contraption/system. That's just the way it is.

By John Barrett on 2013 10 25, 3:25 pm CDT

If Collie was representing herself pro se, it certainly appears that she had a fool for a client.

By Abogado Honesto on 2013 10 25, 4:30 pm CDT

#15 -- We do, indeed, have internet.

But I am still wondering why we would need toothbrushes or underwear here.

By Paul the Magyar on 2013 10 25, 5:54 pm CDT

She got the discipline because she was ordered by the Supreme Court multiple times to register an email address and did not. She then filed numerous frivolous petitions about it after she was ordered to get it.

In SC we are moving to filing all court documents and receiving court notices electronically, like the Federal courts. (Yes, we have the internet. :) That's why you are required to have an email address. This isn't something new - we've been required to have one at least since 2006.

By NoName on 2013 10 25, 9:17 pm CDT

Aside from the fascinating battle of egos occurring between the Chief Justice and the attorney, the bigger picture seems to be the loss of one's ability not to be connected and thereby controlled, day to day, by a vast electronic array. Internet, Wi-Fi, smart phone, debit and credit cards, chips in your pets, rf chips in your Easy-Pass and your passport, surveillance cameras everywhere. It used to be called the thin edge of the wedge or the camel's nose under the tent. Well, the log is nearly split and the camel is sleeping in your bed. Note yesterday's Science Times in the NYT - humanoid robots and machines to alter your brain patterns to your liking or to someone else's. One result may be that no mistake can ever be forgiven or forgotten, and that the essence of learning, which is that we learn by trial and error, may become the instrument of political control rather than the instrument of liberation from ignorance.

By PaulSilvan on 2013 10 30, 12:52 pm CDT

Apparently there is NOTHING else going on in SC that merits any judicial attention whatsoever. They must have achieved statewide nirvana, but for this one pesky little lawyer.

By nytc on 2013 10 30, 1:14 pm CDT

@19, you need tooth brushes in South Carolina so the alligators don't get ornery.

By Smeliot on 2013 10 30, 2:32 pm CDT

OldLawyer & Hooraytheist are not quite correct. Practicing an occupation is, in fact, a liberty guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 43 S. Ct. 625, 67 L. Ed. 1042 (1923):

While this court has not attempted to define with exactness
the liberty thus guaranteed, the term has received much
consideration and some of the included things have been
definitely stated. Without doubt, it denotes not merely
freedom from bodily restraint, but also the right of the
individual to contract, to engage in any of the common
occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry,
establish a home and bring up children, to worship God
according to the dictates of his own conscience, and
generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at
common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness
by free men.

By SgtDad on 2013 10 30, 5:31 pm CDT

I just did a search of the South Carolina Supreme Court web site and the South Carolina Bar Association public web site. Does it surprise anyone that none of the state Supreme Court Justices email addresses are listed on either of these sites? It was more surprising to me that none of the Justices were even listed in the Bar Directory of the state.

Or being South Carolina, maybe it is not surprising at all!

By NV Atty on 2013 10 31, 7:06 pm CDT

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