A South Carolina criminal defense attorney was suspended for six months by the South Caroline Supreme Court for making an unlawful (immoral) communication to her client’s girlfriend. Essentially, the lawyer instructed the client’s girlfriend to move certain United States currency to another location. The opinion describes the facts in this way:
On February 27, 2019, Respondent entered a plea of no contest to the charge of unlawful communication in violation of S.C. Code Ann. § 16-17-430(A)(1) (2015). The facts of the plea indicated that, on December 13, 2017, Respondent willfully and unlawfully conveyed “an immoral message while in a telephonic communication with an individual.” Specifically, while meeting with one of her criminal clients who was in custody related to a narcotics trafficking case, Respondent instructed the client’s girlfriend to remove United States currency and paperwork from the bathroom of the client’s home and take the currency and paperwork to an associate of the client. Respondent was sentenced to one day in jail with credit for one day served.
In the matter of Melisa White Gay, No. 27899, South Carolina Supreme Court (July 3, 2019).
The unlawful communication encouraged a friend of a criminal defendant to move evidence. No doubt the police correctly believed that the lawyer was doing more than just legal work.
The general principle to remember is that the lawyer is an advocate – not a coach who tells a client to hide evidence. Lawyers should not be giving clients “advice” of this sort. Indeed, telling the client to move something may constitute obstruction of justice.
Edward X. Clinton, Jr.