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Retired Attorney Suspended For Refusing to Maintain Email Address

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By William Peacock, Esq. on October 23, 2013 12:58 PM

A luddite? Or a stubborn woman making a valid point?

The Supreme Court of South Carolina temporarily suspended an attorney from practice last week, and although that, in and of itself is not particularly unusual, one of the reasons for the suspension was: she refused to maintain an active email address.

Suddenly, our question of whether a lack of social media savvy may someday constitute malpractice doesn't seem so silly, does it?

Email Addresses, Auto-Responders, and Retirement

Back in 2011, South Carolina adopted a new rule requiring all attorneys to update their contact information, including a working email address, in the state's Attorney Information System (AIS) by November 18, 2011. Rule 410(3), amended at that time, requires attorneys to keep their AIS contact information, including mailing address, email address, and phone number, valid at all times.

Cynthia E. Collie ran head-on into that rule in 2012, when she was a party to a case before the state Supreme Court. The Chief Justice instructed her to update her AIS information, including her email address. She did so on October 22, 2012, adding rule.410-retired@yahoo.com.

Three days later, when the clerk attempted to contact Collie via email, an auto-response was received, stating, "Rule 410 - retired. No reply. Please consult the current directory for contact information."

It turns out that Collie is retired. She hasn't had a client in over thirty years, yet as an active attorney, she is required to have an active email account. Auto-responders don't count, even though she lacks Internet access. (Try your local law library -- just sayin'. )

A Few Motions Too Many

Even though she refused to have an active email address, Collie wasn't suspended from practice -- there were simply disciplinary proceedings pending against her. Understandably, her response was to try to have the proceedings dismissed, but her methods arguably were a bit excessive.

She filed multiple petitions for rehearing in late 2012. When those were denied, she tried again in February, and again, and again, and again, filing multiple motions throughout the early part of 2013 until the court noted on May 2, 2013 that "we warn [respondent] that this Court and/or the hearing panel may place restrictions on her filings in this disciplinary matter if it is determined that she is making repetitive frivolous filings."

On May 22, 2013, she filed three more motions, bringing her total to eight filings since October of last year. The Supreme Court responded by blocking any further filings by Collie in the pending disciplinary proceedings.

Undeterred, she filed three more motions between July 3 and July 18, 2013. She also still refuses to maintain an active email address, arguing that because she is retired, she is exempt. Whether that is a valid argument is for the disciplinary commission to determine, but until then, she'll she suspended:

"As a result of her persistent refusal to comply with this Court's directives, the Court finds respondent poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the public and to the administration of justice. Therefore ... the Court places respondent on interim suspension."

On the one hand, we can kind of see where she's coming from here. Without Internet access, having an active email address is a liability -- imagine the fallout from a missed email regarding a pending case. Still, the rapid filing of motions is a wee bit ridiculous.

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