S.C. Supreme Court reprimands state Senate 36 candidate Carter

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A Manning attorney and petition candidate for Senate District 36 said "selective prosecution" motivated the state Supreme Court to publicly reprimand him Wednesday, not the court's finding that he violated five rules of professional conduct in his "haphazard representation" of a civil case in Edgefield County.

The court's five justices ordered Eleazer Carter to pay court proceedings within 30 days and complete a Legal Ethics and Practice Program's Ethics School within six months in its reprimand, which an unidentified court spokesperson said is "serious, but won't keep (Carter) from practicing law."

"I am no longer surprised at anything people do to you when you become a public figure," said Carter, who also serves as Clarendon County's Democratic Party chairman.

One of seven Democratic candidates kicked off the ballot in Clarendon County for improperly filing financial paperwork, Carter successfully petitioned in August to be on the ballot for the Senate seat. He will face fellow petition candidate Shaun Kent, Democrat Rep. Kevin L. Johnson and Republican Leon Winn in the November election.

"This will not hinder my motivation to seek the Senate seat," he said Wednesday.

According to the court's eight-page order, Carter "failed to adequately prepare" while representing Stacey Daniels, who brought suit in 2008 in Edgefield after a car wreck.

"(Carter) failed to move the case in the 15 months he represented Daniels did not inform opposing counsel that he (would not) attend hearings (and) never clearly informed Daniels that his representation was contingent upon (a) fee agreement being signed," the court said.

Carter argued before the court on Sept. 20 that Daniels' failure to sign a fee agreement precluded him from representing Daniels. He expressed surprise initially when informed about the court's decision.

"I went there to present my case as to how I quit (Daniels' case)," Carter said. "I thought there would be a private reprimand and a fine of $500. That was the recommendation from the council. I'm surprised by this outcome. I'm just surprised."

About an hour later, Carter said his status as a "public figure" in the Senate race led to the reprimand.

"Even the Supreme Court abandoned the recommendation of the (Office of Disciplinary Counsel) panel," Carter said. "When a person becomes a public target, everybody takes (pot shots) at you."

The court said in its order that it gives "great deference" to the panel's recommendations - which were handed down in Carter's case after Daniels filed a grievance when his case was dismissed in 2010.

"It is not bound by the findings of the panel," the court said, noting previous letters of caution finding both minor and regular misconduct in 2002, 2008 and 2010 led to its decision. Those cases involved violations of rules related to competence, diligence, financial record-keeping and communication with clients, according to the court.

"We find, based on Carter's conduct, his disciplinary history and the concerning fact that some of the letters of caution came so close in time to his representation of Daniels, a more severe sanction is warranted," the court said.

The court found in its ruling that, regardless of a fee agreement, Carter acted as Daniels' attorney by discussing settlement possibilities and trial strategy, obtaining medical releases and making calls to an insurance adjuster. The justices ruled that Carter, in neglecting to appear in court with Daniels three times and failing to inform Daniels about an upcoming deposition, exhibited "conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice."

"When informing Daniels the case had been dismissed, (Carter) merely forwarded the order with a handwritten note to Daniels' home address despite knowing Daniels was incarcerated at the time," the court said.

Court officials declined comment Wednesday, noting the reprimand, while serious, will not keep Carter from practicing law.