Crime & Courts

SC Supreme Court reprimands Charleston lawyer who kept client fees secret from firm

The Supreme Court of South Carolina.
The Supreme Court of South Carolina.

A Charleston area attorney was publicly reprimanded Wednesday by the state’s highest court, which charged him with “moonlighting” as a private lawyer for dozens of clients while an active member of a law firm.

The S.C. Supreme Court reprimanded attorney Ivon Keith McCarty, accusing him of handling more than 50 client matters privately while employed at a South Carolina law firm. The court said McCarty did not tell the law firm what he was doing or share the money with the firm.

The reprimand did not identify McCarty’s law firm.

That sort of conduct is looked down upon. Lawyers aren’t supposed to engage in actions involving any kind of misrepresentation.

McCarty couldn’t be reached for comment. His attorney, Steedley Bogan of Columbia, declined to comment.

McCarty made good money on the side before his moonlighting was discovered.

The court’s reprimand said he made some $100,000 by personally billing his outside clients instead of billing on behalf of his firm. While raking in the money, McCarty did not maintain trust accounts for those clients.

Lawyers generally maintain trust accounts to handle their clients’ money.

Had he billed those clients as a member of the firm, McCarty would have been entitled to keep 70% to 80% of his collected billings, the Supreme Court said.

McCarty kept parts of his moonlighting separate from his firm’s business. But he also used the law firm’s computers and stationery for his moonlighting work.

McCarty paid the firm $35,000 to resolve the financial differences between him and his firm, the ruling said. The reprimand doesn’t say when McCarty paid the firm back.

The Supreme Court also directed McCarty to complete a legal ethics class and attend classes on lawyers’ trust accounts.

McCarty, a 1986 graduate of the Memphis School of Law, was admitted to practice law in South Carolina in 1993, according to the S.C. Bar.

Some of McCarty’s actions while a member of his firm were commendable, the Supreme Court noted.

For example, the court noted that he serves on the town council of Meggett, a small town about 15 miles east of Charleston near Wadlamaw Island. It also noted that McCarty did not neglect his work at the firm while moonlighting. He represented members of the firm and their families for no charge, and he helped another member of his firm become a town attorney, the court said.

Complicating the situation, the reprimand said, was that McCarty’s law firm had no written prohibition against its lawyers engaging in outside business activities, and moonlighting was not specifically prohibited.

McCarty “notes he did not hide his moonlighting,” the reprimand said, “but concedes it would have been better if he had explicitly discussed his plan to moonlight and sought clearance prior to engaging in moonlighting.”

John Monk has covered courts, crime, politics, public corruption, the environment and other issues in the Carolinas for more than 40 years. A U.S. Army veteran who covered the 1989 American invasion of Panama, Monk is a former Washington correspondent for The Charlotte Observer. He has covered numerous death penalty trials, including that of the Charleston church killer, Dylann Roof, and that of child killer Tim Jones.