The S.C. Supreme Court dismissed disciplinary charges against an Upstate personal injury lawyer known for his catchy television ads, putting an end to a years-long legal battle over whether one of the attorney's ads aired years ago made misleading promises about protecting jobs.
In a unanimous decision, the high court denied an appeal by its Office of Disciplinary Counsel asking to reprimand Joel Bieber - who's known for television ad catch phrases such as "I'm not an actor, I'm a lawyer" and "Leave it to me - leave it to Bieber."
A panel of the South Carolina Commission on Lawyer Conduct, a group of 42 lawyers and two members of the public tasked with investigating complaints of attorney misconduct, dropped the charges earlier this year after determining Bieber's ad wasn't misleading.
In 2006, the commission had begun an investigation after a person claiming to be a lawyer in Spartanburg sent an anonymous complaint letter regarding a television ad that began running in December 2003, according to the Supreme Court's opinion issued Monday.
"It's not your fault that you were hurt on the job," Bieber said in the ad. "But I know you're afraid to file a job injury claim. You're afraid your boss won't believe you're really hurt, or worse, that you'll be fired. We'll protect you against these threats and these accusations and work to protect your job."
The anonymous complainant argued that Bieber's ad left the impression that hiring Bieber would mean a client wouldn't lose his job, according to the opinion.
Bieber, who had pulled the ad following the complaint, argued that the ad asserted only that he would work to protect a job and offered no guarantees, according to the opinion.
In March 2008, the commission hired a marketing firm to conduct a survey of 30 people who were shown Bieber's "Job Injury" ad and asked to compare it with four other lawyer ads, according to the opinion.
The firm, Market Search, concluded that the ad "creates unjustified expectations or is otherwise misleading," though experts on Bieber's behalf testified that the survey was flawed.
In the high court's opinion, the justices said Bieber's statement in the ad wasn't a guarantee and was "merely a statement of (Bieber's) role as an advocate on behalf of a client."