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Columbia attorney suspended over handling of Atlantic Beach zoning dispute

A Richland County attorney has been suspended from practice for 90 days and ordered to complete an ethics program within six months of being reinstated, according to an order from the state Supreme Court.

The disciplinary matter involving William Gary White III was posted Monday on the court’s website. Justices heard arguments in the case on Feb. 1.

Calls to White’s office in Columbia were not immediately returned.

According to the S.C. Bar Association’s website, the suspension is his second since White was admitted to the bar in May 1976. Records showed White was suspended in May 2008 for his handling of a personal injury case.

His privilege to practice law was reinstated in November 2008.

In the most recent case, the opinion cites White’s letter written about zoning requirements by Atlantic Beach against of his client, Atlantic Beach Christian Episcopal Church.

Church members received notice in April 2009 from Town Manager Kenneth McIver about compliance with town zoning ordinances at the property. White had previously represented the church in a 2004 zoning dispute.

White replied to the church officials in a letter that told them to ignore the town’s requests. The letter dated May 6, 2009, which was made part of the published opinion, is the following:

“You have been sent a letter by purported Town Manager Kenneth McIver. The letter is false. You notice McIver has no Order. He also has no brains and it is questionable if he has a soul. Christ was crucified some 2000 years ago. The church is His body on earth. The pagans at Atlantic Beach want to crucify His body here on earth yet again.

We will continue to defend you against the Town's insane [sic]. As they continue to have to pay for damages they pigheadedly cause the church. You will also be entitled to damages if you want to pursue them.

First graders know about freedom of religion. The pagans of Atlantic Beach think they are above God and the Federal law. They do not seem to be able to learn. People like them in S.C. tried to defy Federal law before with similar lack of success.”

McIver sent the letter to Town Council and three council members filed a disciplinary complaint about White’s behavior.

In the opinion, the justices wrote they found three aggravating circumstances regarding the issue. They were: White's “lack of remorse and unwillingness to acknowledge his wrongdoing, his extensive disciplinary history, and his “disregard and disrespect for these proceedings.’”

They also wrote that White offered no evidence of mitigation other than he called his wife to testify during oral arguments and she said she suffered from cancer, but he offered no evidence that her condition impacted his conduct.

White also was required to pay a fine and the costs of the proceedings, and ordered to complete the Legal Ethics and Practice Program administered by the South Carolina Bar as a condition of reinstatement to the bar.