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June 13, 2014
The North Carolina State Bar is investigating the handling of money held in trust in the law practice of Oriental Mayor Bill Sage. A preliminary injunction prevents Sage from accepting or receiving or dispersing any money from client accounts.Sage has been an attorney for almost four decades. He started his practice in Oriental in 1999, having been an attorney in Greensboro prior to that. His practice often involves real estate closings, where funds are kept in trust accounts.Bill Sage
The injunction, which Sage did not challenge, has been in effect since April 24, when it was brought by the State Bar to a Wake Superior Court judge.
The three page injunction states, as a Conclusion of Law, that “Sage should be prohibited from serving in any fiduciary capacity, including trustee, escrow agent, attorney-in-fact, executor or personal representative, until further order of the court.
The language of the injunction appears to prevent Sage from practicing real estate and some other areas of law while the State Bar investigates.From the injunction.
The nature of the complaint that the State Bar is investigating was not immediately clear. TownDock.net tried on Thursday to reach Sage for comment but the phone message at his law office said “all lines are busy.”
At the State Bar, the state agency that investigates complaints about lawyers, counsel Katherine Jean said that Sage had been cooperating. The injunction called for him to turn over paperwork related to finances and Jean said the State Bar was “examining trust accounts.” Jean said she could not comment further as the case was still being investigated.
Asked when the investigation of Bill Sage’s law practice first began and whether it involved a single incident with one client, or more, State Bar Deputy Counsel Barry McNeill said that he could not comment as the investigation was underway. As to when the investigation would be wrapping up, he said, “I don’t believe it’ll take very long.”Town Hall Consults AttorneyAt Oriental Town Hall on Thursday, Town Manager Diane Miller said she’d only learned of the injunction against the Mayor’s legal practice “this afternoon.”
“I was surprised,” said Miller, “Shocked.” She commented that it might help explain why the Mayor had been “absent” from town meetings in May. Sage has been Mayor of Oriental since being elected in 2007.
Oriental’s Town Manager says she spoke Thursday afternoon with the Town’s Attorney, Scott Davis, and that there were “things he was looking into” before she would make any formal statement on behalf of the Town.
Miller confirmed that the Town Attorney would be investigating, among other things the language in the injunction that says Sage is “prohibited from serving in any fiduciary capacity” and what bearing, if any, that would have on his role as Mayor of Oriental.
Katherine Jean of the State Bar says the state agency opens 1200-1400 files a year on a variety of allegations.
Once the investigation is complete, the State Bar could then send its findings to a Grievance Committee who would then decide whether to refer the matter to the Disciplinary Hearing Committee, an administrative court. That DHC would determine if any ethical violations took place and what discipline is called for.
Posted Friday June 13, 2014 by Melinda Penkava
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