Legal Ethics

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

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A South Carolina lawyer has been placed on interim suspension in part because she doesn’t have a valid email address.

The South Carolina Supreme Court ordered the interim suspension for Cynthia Collie, despite her assertion that she hasn’t had a client in more than 30 years and is retired from the practice of law. The Legal Profession Blog links to the Oct. 17 court order.

The court noted that South Carolina lawyers must be 65 years or older to claim retired status, and said that, even if Collie were eligible for that status, she would still be required to maintain an email address as part of its Attorney Information System. Rule 410 of the South Carolina Bar says lawyers must provide a mailing address, an e-mail address and a telephone number.

The court also said Collie had made repeated filings contesting an order that she provide a working email address, even after she had been ordered to refrain from doing so. “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.

Collie was first directed to provide an email address during oral arguments before the South Carolina Supreme Court in a case in which she was a party, according to the court order. The chief justice said that Collie should update her attorney information to provide an email address. Two days later, on Oct. 18, 2012, Collie was once again directed to provide a valid email address, this time in connection with a pending disciplinary matter, the court said.

Collie provided an email address that references the relevant rule: [email protected]. She also filed a petition for rehearing regarding the Oct. 18 order to provide an email—by fax, the court said. When the clerk notified Collie by email of the need to file an original document, an auto response indicated there was no reply.

Collie was mailed a notice that the court had denied the motion, along with the clerk’s request for Collie to remove the automatic reply and to start monitoring the email. Collie filed two more petitions for rehearing, along with additional motions, all denied. Before Collie’s last filing, the court warned her about “repetitive frivolous filings,” and after her last filing, the court refused to accept further motions in the disciplinary matter.

Collie wrote in a November 2012 letter that her office doesn’t have Internet access, and she said in a September 2013 letter that she is exempt from the email requirement because she is retired and she hasn’t had a client in more than 30 years.

The South Carolina Supreme Court said it was placing Collie on interim suspension because she had repeatedly refused to comply with court orders and rules by refusing to maintain an operational email account and by filing additional motions after she had been ordered to stop.

Collie tells the ABA Journal in a voice mail that she is trying to resolve the email issue on behalf of other retired people like herself. She identified herself as Cynthia Holmes, a name used in the argued appeal in which she was told during oral arguments to register her email address.

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