Hilton Head Island lawyer suspended from practicing

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Hilton Head Island lawyer suspended from practicing

Published Saturday, December 22, 2012   |  609 Words  |  

A former Hilton Head Island Town Council candidate disbarred in 1994 for ethical violations has been suspended from practicing law by the S.C. Supreme Court.

Charles E. Houston Jr. of the Houston Law Firm was suspended by the court Dec. 7 for repeatedly failing to comply with court orders.

Houston's troubles began in 1994 when he was disbarred after a disciplinary panel found he took settlement money from one case to pay past-due alimony, which he repaid using payments from other clients, according to court records. The court also found that Houston bounced checks, overdrew client accounts and failed to keep adequate records, among other violations.

He was reinstated to the S.C. Bar Association in 2000, after screening by the Committee on Character and Fitness. However, he was reprimanded by the court in 2009 for again failing to keep proper records.

The court required him to hire a certified public accountant to manage client accounts, which he did. However, he failed to provide the CPA with financial records until a year later. And the documents provided were "incomplete and inadequate," according to the Supreme Court.

In June 2011, the court ordered Houston to submit monthly financial reports signed by the CPA to the Commission on Lawyer Conduct for two years.

The court warned that "no violation of the consent order shall be tolerated." In February, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel told the court Houston had not submitted any statements.

Houston was found in civil contempt by the court following a hearing June 6. He was ordered to return any money he had collected from clients or deliver the funds to the Lawyers Fund for Client Protection, as well as enroll in an ethics and accounting course administered by the S.C. Bar Association.

Houston also was ordered to again submit monthly statements from his CPA to the commission.

All was to be completed within a week. It was not, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel told the court in September.

Houston said he did not attend the ethics and accounting course because of an injury. He also said he could not determine to whom the money in his trust account belonged, and sent a $3,349 check to the Lawyers Fund on Nov. 26, five months after he was ordered to do so. He said he asked the court for an extension but never received a response.

"My records were stolen, and I could not determine whom the money belonged to," Houston said Wednesday.

He said monthly financial statements were submitted to the Commission on Lawyer Conduct, but were sent late.

Houston also said he was not given a chance to defend himself before the court. The justices made their decision based solely on reports from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, he said.

Houston remains suspended from practicing law until he can document that he has fully complied with the court's orders, the justices ruled.

Houston lost in the Nov. 6 election to fellow native-islander and political newcomer Marc Grant, who unseated longtime incumbent Bill Ferguson for the Ward 1 Town Council seat.

Houston finished third, with about 15 percent of the vote.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

Related content:

Grant unseats Ferguson; McCann wins by 46 votes: Nov. 7, 2012

Hilton Head council candidate disbarred in '94, reprimanded in '09: Aug. 15, 2012