In the Fall 2023 Journal of the North Carolina State Bar, several disciplinary actions were reported, shedding light on the commitment of the legal profession to upholding ethical standards and maintaining public trust. This article provides an overview of the most recent actions taken against attorneys in North Carolina.
The disciplinary actions included disbarments of attorneys who were found to have engaged in serious professional misconduct. J. Brent Garner of Rockingham was disbarred for misappropriating entrusted funds, making misrepresentations, improperly disbursing funds, failing to maintain proper trust accounting records, and neglecting other required trust account responsibilities.
Charles R. Gurley from Goldsboro faced disbarment for grossly abdicating his trust accounting obligations to nonlawyer staff, mishandling entrusted funds, failing to represent clients diligently, and not returning unearned fees. He also failed to supervise nonlawyer staff properly, made misrepresentations to the Grievance Committee, and was held in contempt of court for not providing the required information.
Rebecca A. Nelson of Raleigh voluntarily surrendered her law license and was subsequently disbarred by the State Bar Council after being convicted of second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Nelson’s criminal actions resulted in her incarceration.
Michelle Congleton Smith of Raleigh surrendered her law license and was disbarred for wiring entrusted funds to a fraudster due to her failure to verify wiring instructions in a refinance transaction. She also made false statements to the Grievance Committee.
Suspensions & Stayed Suspensions
Gregory A. Bullard of Pembroke, who has been serving as a district court judge since January 2021, faced a three-year suspension for not remitting withheld taxes to the IRS and failing to pay personal income taxes. The suspension, however, was stayed for three years under certain conditions, including compliance with payment arrangements with taxing authorities.
Kenneth Robert Davis of Elizabethtown received a three-year suspension for various violations, including improper handling of entrusted funds, failure to conduct required trust account reconciliations, and noncompliance with tax obligations. The suspension was stayed for five years with designated conditions.
Monica Savidge of Southport was suspended for three years due to mishandling entrusted funds, failure to conduct required trust account reviews, reconciliations, and misrepresentations to the Grievance Committee. Similar to the previous cases, the suspension was stayed for three years with specific conditions.
Lee W. Bettis Jr. of New Bern received a reprimand from the Grievance Committee for signing pleadings and affidavits in an ex parte domestic violence proceeding without adequate review. Bettis failed to inform the tribunal of material facts and engaged in a conflict of interest by advising the client despite personal interests.
Transfers to Disability Inactive Status
Douglas Hux of Eden and Richard T. Dail of Thomasville were transferred to disability inactive status due to health-related reasons. This status allows attorneys to remain inactive until they are able to resume their practice.
Notice of Intent to Seek Reinstatement
Charles Kevin Blackmon of Greensboro and Harry L. Southerland of Raeford expressed their intent to seek reinstatement before the Disciplinary Hearing Commission. Blackmon was disbarred for lack of diligence, misappropriation, and conversion of funds, while Southerland was disbarred for misappropriating client funds for personal use.
The disciplinary actions taken by the North Carolina State Bar reflect its commitment to maintaining the integrity of the legal profession and protecting the public interest. Disbarments, suspensions, reprimands, and transfers to disability inactive status serve as reminders that attorneys must adhere to ethical standards, fulfill their fiduciary duties, and diligently represent their clients. The process of reinstatement provides an opportunity for disbarred attorneys to demonstrate remorse, rehabilitation, and a commitment to upholding the principles of the legal profession. By publishing these actions, the State Bar promotes transparency and accountability, ensuring public trust in the legal system.
Source: North Carolina State Bar