An FBI investigation has been launched along with two civil lawsuits that allege that the law firm of Richard J. Breibart took $500,000 in client funds. A fund set up by the South Carolina Bar might not have enough money to pay the claims because the law firm might have taken more money than what has been reported. The fund set up by the South Carolina Bar has a cap of $200,000 on money used to pay for losses caused by a sole lawyer’s actions and it does not matter how many claims are filed, according to ‘The State’ newspaper.
Multiple clients have been left to fend for themselves without representation until they are able to find a new lawyer. Close to two dozen former support staff and Breibart lawyers are now without jobs.
“What a tragedy this has been,” Mike Hemlepp said. Hemlepp is the executive director of the S.C. Association for Justice. It is a group of 1,200 trial lawyers across the state. His group is finding lawyers to sign with clients of Breibart, many for free, because they already paid fees to Breibart. “If we can get assistance to clients, we’ll at least do our part to relieve some of the burden of this disaster.”
In June, the South Carolina Supreme Court suspended Breibart, which led to his offices closing. According to Leigh Leventis, a friend and Columbia attorney, Breibart has been suffering from health problems for quite some time and was in intensive care. Leventis also told ‘The State’ that Breibart was sent home last month but ‘horrific’ problems led to him being returned to the hospital.
The two civil lawsuits filed against Breibart allege that the firm intentionally took the money. The lawsuits were filed in Lexington County Court of Common Pleas. One of the lawsuits was filed on July 3 by Molly Spearman. Spearman claims that $222,456 was taken from her by Breibart in December. Spearman works as the executive director of the S.C. Association of School Administrators.
“Breibart informed Plaintiff that he deposited the Client Trust Funds into the Practice’s trust account and would only distribute the Client Funds in accordance with Plaintiff’s intentions,” Spearman’s lawsuit said. “The firm expended the Client Trust Funds on an unauthorized purpose and for Defendants’ purposes without Plaintiff’s knowledge or consent.”
Rudolph Mitchell, Spearman’s father, has filed the other lawsuit against Breibart. He claims that $298,915 of his money was taken by the firm.
Possibly the people most surprised by all of this are Breibart’s former employees. The former employees include 10 lawyers making salary, secretaries and paralegals. Until the end of the month of May, the employees worked at 201 W. Main St. in Lexington. Employees would receive a paycheck on the 5th of each month for work performed the previous month. Late in the month of May, the employees were told via email that they would not receive their checks. The email, obtained by ‘The State,’ said, “The finances of the firm are such that we will not be able to cover payroll at this time.”