Bill Connor

Bill Connor
Orangeburg Attorney Bill Connor received his Bachelor of Arts from The Citadel in 1990, and after serving for over a decade as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army, including three deployments to the Middle East, he received his Juris Doctorate from The University of South Carolina in 2005. In 2012, Bill was honored to receive an AV® Preeminent™ Peer Review Rating by Martindale-Hubbell®, the top peer rating for American lawyers. Receiving this rating at such an early point in his career is unheard of among lawyers.


        One of the toughest decisions is whether to bring a guardianship and/or conservatorship action over another family member or close friend.  This only comes up when the person needing a guardianship or conservatorship can no longer take care of himself. He is in the category of a “protected person”. In the case of a guardianship, the protected person is no longer able to take care of himself and requires a competent person to make health care and living decisions.  In the case of a conservatorship, the protected person cannot handle his finances and requires a competent person to handle the finances and make those decisions.  Normally, both actions (Conservatorships and Guardianships) are brought together, as the protected person cannot handle either of those issues. Additionally, normally the person petitioning the court will petition to become both guardian and conservator. A number of things to consider before filing this action.


      First, the petition for Guardianship/Conservatorship is made with the probate court of the county the protected person resides.  Second, it is similar to bringing other suits in probate court. In the case of a Guardianship/Conservatorship, the party seeking the conservatorship will be the Petitioner and the protected person is the Respondent.  In South Carolina, a requirement for successfully bringing the action is to have a medical evaluation of the protected person, and the physician’s determination that the Guardianship or Conservatorship is necessary due to the condition of the protected person. Even with that determination, the protected person still has the ability in a hearing to argue against the action (including through counsel).  Additionally, notice must be given to all interested parties, which are other family members to the protected person.  Each of them can argue against the action, or that one of them should be the Guardian or Conservator.  Therefore, seeking a Guardianship or Conservatorship should only come after clear evidence the protected person is in true need of the action.  This is an action in which a lawyer is highly recommended.


      It’s important to remember that if the potential protected person is not yet at the level of requiring the Conservatorship, and he is competent to sign a Power of Attorney (POA), he can give power to another to handle financial matters.  The only problem is that the potential protected person can still conduct his own business, potentially to his detriment. Additionally, a POA can be revoked at any time.  Sometimes, a potential protected person give POA to someone who may abuse the POA to the detriment of the person, and become incompetent after giving POA.  In that event, a loved one may need to step in with a Petition for Conservatorship and/or Guardianship. That may be the only way to stop the person with POA from abusing that power to the detriment to of the potential protected person.


       If possible, it is always best to obtain “buy in” by the potential protected person before filing a Conservatorship and/or Guardianship.  In that event, the process is much more smooth, and the protected person knows and can trust the person petitioning.  The hearing becomes “pro forma”, and other family members may be placated in this circumstance.  I have seen this particularly with elderly come to realize they need the help of a child, for example, and work with them in the Petition. If the protected person fights the process, it can become very difficult and expensive.  Sometimes, the incapacitating issue is some form of dementia.  Sometimes, it may be a psychiatric or mental challenge issue.  Sometimes it comes due to a personal injury, a car wreck for example, in which the person is seriously injured and cannot handle affairs.


       This is a process that requires much thought and prayer to handle while keeping peace among relationships.  It is always recommended to obtain counsel to get through this challenging time.



        When a person or business has been damaged by the negligence or bad dealing (breach of contract, fraud, etc.) of another party, and attempts to settle between parties are unsuccessful, the wronged party will usually begin litigation.  The start point of litigation is the drafting of a Complaint to file with a court.  I write “a court”, because parties usually have choices to make with determining the court to use. First, it could be something involving parties of different states or a Federal law issue which might give the option of Federal court, but we will assume South Carolina state court.  If the wrongful act/incident happens in one place, but the Defendant lives in another, both places offer jurisdiction to litigate.  If the damages are $7500 or less, the case can be brought in Magistrate Court as well as Circuit Court.  Regardless, the SC Rules of Civil Procedure (SCRCP) apply to all state courts.  The Complaint will have to allege the basis of the jurisdiction of the court of filing, and cause of action against the Defendant.  It must allege the elements of the cause the Defendant violated.  After filing the Summons and Complaint, the party filing has 120 days to “serve” the lawsuit on the other side or it is dismissed.


        By the SCRCP, the Complaint is served with a “Summons” that was also filed with the Court.  The Summons tells the Defendant he has 30 days to answer the Complaint or will be held to have defaulted to the cause of action.  That means the Defendant can lose the case if he does not answer within that time, which starts after he is served with the Summons and Complaint.  The default provision is why “Service of Process” is such a formal process in ensuring the Defendant actually receives the Summons and Complaint.


         By the SCRCP, Service means physically giving a copy of the Summons and Complaint to the Defendant by a competent person over the age of 18 and not a party or party attorney.  In practice, this is normally executed by a professional process server.  Of note, by the SCRCP service of process is conducted for civil suits and at the start of a Family Court action, but is not needed in for most Probate Court actions.  An exception to the rule of handing the papers to the Defendant is handing the papers to “an adult of suitable discretion at the Defendant’s residence”.  Usually, this is the Defendant’s Spouse or any adult children.  For a business, the service is conducted upon an officer of the corporation, or by certified mail through the registered agent for the corporation. After serving the Summons and Complaint, the process server executes an affidavit of service attesting to the service conducted, and that is filed with the Court. The date of service starts the 30 day period to answer and starts the clock for the suit.


        Another means of conducting service of process is by mailing a certified letter. “If” the Defendant personally signs for the certified letter, that signature is considered the acceptance of service and it can be filed as such.  If a Defendant’s attorney accepts service on the Defendant’s behalf, that is considered acceptance of service (note: Most attorneys will not accept most service for clients, and that acceptance is usually not in the client’s interest).  Additionally, a party can voluntarily accept service and sign an acceptance of service.  This is sometimes done when parties have reached an agreement before the suit begins and they are settling.


        If a party avoids service by avoiding the process server and refusing to sign a certified letter, the party bringing suit can request the court allow for “service by publication”.  This means that it is published in the newspaper of record for a period of time and the person is considered served.  It is not a defense for the Defendant to claim they didn’t actually read the paper, as the rules are specific about what must happen for service to be deemed complete.


        It’s important to know about proper service of process, and mistakes will mean the lawsuit can be dismissed for improper service.


     It is always recommended to begin Estate Planning as early as possible. For some, the emotion of planning for one’s death can be a challenge to overcome.  In my personal case as an Army Infantry Officer, it was a natural and required part of our “business” of being ready to deploy to war.  The chance of death is ubiquitous, and so certain things had to be put in order to have piece of mind in deploying. One of the most important parts of Estate Planning is in executing a last Will and Testament.  The good thing is that it is something that can and should be kept as simple as possible for multiple reasons.


        When clients come to be to provide counsel for their Wills, they sometimes have every individual piece of real and personal property designated to a specific beneficiary. The problem with attempting to much specificity with a Will is that property and personal changes are certain to occur after executing the Will.  For example, property is sold or transferred in the normal course of life.  Each time that happens, it can generate the need for new Will.  A codicil (amendment to the will) is another solution, but this will actually republish the Will and multiple codicils can make the Will confusing and potentially open to attack in court. 


         The other natural change in life is with those who are beneficiaries.  A hard fact of life is that relatives, including even children, sometimes die first.  If the Will does not specify “my natural children alive at the time of my death”, then the heirs of a child will split as beneficiaries.  Additionally, relationships can change over time.  Beyond the one third elective share to a spouse (outside of a prenuptial agreement to the contrary, a spouse is legally entitled to at least 1/3 of their spouse’s estate), you are not legally required to devise or bequeath any part of an estate to a child or other relative. A child or other relative can become a “black sheep” over time, and this could generate the need for another Will.


         Keeping a Will simple means considering making your spouse the 100% beneficiary, and potentially your children as alternates.  In that event, you would likely consider the spouse acting as a primary personal representative (PR, the administrator of the estate) and one or more children as alternate PR.  Additionally, to ensure certain keepsakes or family heirlooms go to specific individuals, you can reference a “memorandum” you will leave separate from the Will, and what is written on the Memorandum becomes incorporated into the Will when the estate is probated.  On this memo, you can designate the a certain person receives a certain piece of property.  For example, a son receiving a specific rifle. With this provision, you would not need to get a new Will for personal property and can change your mind over the years on those items.


         Always have a Will, but keep it simple.  Your loved ones will appreciate it.



        One of the toughest parts of civil litigation, whether as a Plaintiff bringing the case or Defendant, is handling a Deposition.  Depositions are part of “Discovery” between parties, and will come after parties have served their pleadings (Complaint/Answer) and usually after they have exchanged written discovery.  It is the chance for the attorneys to not only obtain information from the opposing party, but evaluate the believability and presentation of the opposing party. Attorneys will usually depose other witnesses beyond the parties to the lawsuit, but the deposition of the Plaintiff or Defendant is critical to litigation. In South Carolina, once the deposition has started, you cannot speak to your attorney until it is over.  That includes not speaking to your attorney during breaks.


        The attorney goes into the deposition of a party with a few critical objectives. First, he wants to know how the party will come across to a jury. Will he or she be sympathetic to a jury?  Will he appear credible?  Will he come across as angry?  Will he lie or appear to lie?  These are all things to consider when preparing for a deposition.  It’s why a party should dress conservatively (presentation/likeability).  It’s why a party should be prepared to stay calm if the other attorney tries to make him mad.  It’s why a party should consider and ponder all the facts first before the deposition, and answer in a cool fashion (appearance of credibility). Before, during, and after the deposition, be cordial to the opposing attorney without forgetting he is opposed in interest.  In other words, do not get too close in conversation while outside the deposition he picks up information he should not know.


        The other objective of the attorney in the party deposition is gathering critical information for his case.  That’s a reason for a party to solely answer questions asked of the attorney, and take time thinking to give clear, concise answers.  Many times, a party will believe they have to talk beyond the question. The opposing attorney may learn something critical to his case when he didn’t even ask the question, or be able to use “loose” words as evidence to for his case.  Make the other attorney do his job.


        Do not try to argue with the other attorney during the deposition and become flustered. Your attorney will have the opportunity on cross examination to explain something you need explained more fully. Discuss this with your attorney before the deposition.  For example, during a personal injury car wreck deposition the other attorney may not let you go beyond a question of whether or not you saw the other car before impact. It might be important that you be able to speak about the incident beyond a simple yes or no answer due to the specific conditions.  Your attorney will give you that chance in cross examination.


       Lastly, it is critical your deposition testimony not be used to impeach you if the case goes to trial. Get the facts straight before the deposition.  If you don’t know or can’t remember those become perfectly acceptable answers.  Always tell the truth, and do it in a way a jury would both like you and believe you.


Bill Connor



 Planning for what happens to one’s property after death can be a tough process but the motivation comes from the security of caring for others.  Without any estate planning, loved ones are forced to make tough decisions about the property of the departed within the constraints of state law, and the lack of direction can cause families to become bitter or separate.  With this being the case, it’s important to think through all aspects of estate planning while still in the mental capacity to do so.  What is most important about this process?


       The most obvious important part of estate planning is in executing a last will and testament.  This not only directs where property should go among loved ones, but who is responsible for handling the estate.  Without a will, family members may be in conflict about who should act as the Personal Representative (formerly Executor or Executrix) for the estate.  There may also be conflict when property must be divided by state intestacy (no will) law.  This happens frequently with a person who has a second spouse after raising a family with a first spouse.  The second spouse has priority as personal representative, and the estate must be divided between the living spouse and living children (who may not care for the spouse).  A will relieves these questions and conflicts.


       Also part of the process is in having Durable Power of Attorney given to a trusted loved one.  This is for the period before death in which one may not be capable of conducting business affairs.  Along with the Durable Power of Attorney, should be a Health Care Power of Attorney.  This allows end of life decision by a loved one and communication and recovery are no longer reasonably possible. 


       Lastly, it’s important to consider setting up non-probate transfers upon death to help minimize the work in probate (and prevent the estate from reaching the point of having to pay substantial Estate taxes).  This can be done through “payment on death” or “transfer on death” accounts, whether checking or savings.  It can also be done with other types of fungible wealth transfers like stocks/bonds/401K/etc or even retirement accounts.  It is important to ask about this option on various accounts and investments.  With house and land (“real property”) one can transfer the Title to a loved one during life, subject to a “life estate” by the person transferring.  That allows one to live in the house/land until death, without the real property going through probate.


        It’s really never too early to consider estate planning, as we never know when the Lord will come calling.  Do it now, and take care of your loved ones.  Make this your legacy.


       At some point in the future if not already, you will be in the position to become personal representative (formerly this was known as Executor for men and Executrix for women).  This can happen when a loved one has died and has designated you their personal representative in the will.  It can also happen when a loved one dies without a will, but you are the closest living relative to the person and obligated to file an intestate (without will) estate.  Sometimes, it can happen when you are the person who is most competent and in the best position to probate the estate.  In the event there is no will, the SC probate law does provide priority, first to living spouse and next to living children.  A question will arise in whether to hire an attorney and when to hire an attorney in the probate process.


      First, a person “can” probate an estate as a personal representative (PR) without an attorney (called “Pro Se”). In this event, the only time during the process when an attorney would have to get involved is if a Deed of Distribution must be drafted and filed.  Otherwise, the law allows individuals to file an estate and act as PR until the closing of the estate.  Before taking this option, you should be aware that the PR is a fiduciary and must follow SC law throughout the process of the estate and is accountable to heirs and beneficiaries.  If something is done wrong, the PR cannot blame the lack of an attorney in trying to avoid liability.  Additionally, if you attempt to start the probate process without an attorney, some mistakes might not be undone by later hiring an attorney, particularly if money is lost or distributed improperly.


      Estate attorneys can be paid out of the estate after a person is appointed PR, so it generally makes financial sense for the PR to hire an attorney.  If the attorney is retained prior to appointment as PR, you must pay him for the work in filing the estate, which could also involve defending the petition for PR against someone contesting the appointment.  Assuming no contest (which is the norm when a person is designated PR by the will, or is a close relative like a spouse) the expenses are minimal prior to appointment as PR. 


      The Estate attorney has a primary duty to the estate and the processing of the estate by the SC probate code, but works with the PR toward completing the inventory and appraisement, any real estate sales involved, payment of creditors and estate expenses, and finally closing the estate by an accounting and distribution to devisees.  The PR oversees the process and acts as the ultimate responsible party but the lawyer (and firm) does the detailed work.


       It is best to hire an attorney at the beginning to ensure the process is done correctly, legally, and without liability on the PR. If not at the beginning, then after appointment as PR, but before starting the process involving fiduciary liability.   

       In many years past in South Carolina, for a plaintiff to bring a personal injury negligence case a defendant, the plaintiff could not have contributed to the accident. This is called "contributory negligence", and was previously a complete bar to a plaintiff bringing suit if the plaintiff was negligent in any manner, despite the level of negligence of the defendant.  Some states have maintained this bar to bringing a suit, but South Carolina has partially followed what many states use with "comparative negligence".  Under comparative negligence, a Plaintiff who has some level of negligence can still bring a suit as long he can show damages and the Defendant has a level of negligence.  South Carolina uses a modified comparative negligence.
      In South Carolina, a Plaintiff with damages and some negligence can bring a suit against a Defendant with a caveat. In South Carolina under modified comparative negligence, the Plaintiff must show the Defendant's negligence was at least 50% the proximate cause of the accident. This means the Plaintiff could be up to 50% negligent as the proximate cause of the accident and yet still sue. If a Defendant is found a certain percentage at fault, they will be responsible for that percent of the damages.  Therefore, if the Plaintiff's damages were determined to be $20,000 and the Defendant 50% at fault, the Defendant would owe half of the damages or $10,000.
     The comparative negligence can bring unique cases.  In one car wreck case I tried as defense counsel for a Defendant, we counter-claimed against the Plaintiff claiming he was at fault. The jury held both sides 50% at fault, and therefore each side owed the other side 50% of the damages determined for each.  In this case, the jury held the respective damages to be the exact same amount.  Therefore, each side owed the other side the exact same amount! This was a victory for me, as I had been retained to defend my client and the end result was my client (actually client's insurance company) owed nothing.
      In many cases, the percentage of fault will be well beyond 50%.  The principle remains the same of the Defendant owing the percentage of fault times the total damages. If Defendant was determined to have caused $10,000 of damages and 90% at fault, then the Defendant would have to satisfy a $9,000 verdict.  This percentage of fault is used with insurance companies evaluating settlements.  The lawyer will have to drop below full damages if his Plaintiff client was determined negligent in some percentage.

In starting a small business, the various legal and administrative requirements can be onerous and complex. Getting incorporated, setting up a business account and EIN (Tax ID) number, creating operating agreement(s) with partners in the business. Then comes the legal and administrative issues associated with running a small business. Hiring employees, developing standard operating procedures for employees, developing procedures for termination of employees. Meeting local, state, and federal requirements with businesses and employees, like eVerify for employee immigration status. The list goes on and on. Most small businesses cannot afford to hire a general counsel as an employee of the business, but the need for legal assistance is such that separately retaining counsel with every legal issue or problem is also onerous and expensive. There is another solution we have used in my law firm. We have helped a number of small businesses become established while meeting legal standards, and continued to assist as the businesses continue and grow while remaining “legal”. Our small business clients retain our firm to act as a small business legal advisor.

They put money into a retainer, to be used only when legal work is requested. Whenever something occurs needing legal help, we can immediately help without establishing separate attorney client relationships. We can help incorporate and create operating agreements and obtain EINs for business tax purposes. We can help draft contacts for agreements with other businesses and with incoming employees. We can provide advice on handling employment issues or preventing any problem with potential discrimination.
Finally, we can help handle cases others may bring against the small business when that occurs.

A vehicle accident can be a traumatic event.  In many cases, it can replicate the physiological responses associated with combat.  In particular, the adrenaline rush which can prevent the usual sensing of pain and sometimes cloud judgment and/or perception.  It is important to understand this dynamic in the immediate aftermath of a wreck.  First, you should always consider seeking medical evaluation after a wreck.  That's particularly the case when you have been rear-ended, and may have sustained back and/or neck injuries you might not feel in the immediate aftermath of the impact.  Beyond the care of the possible injury, it is also important to be seen as near to the accident as possible to prevent any question of the cause of the injuries.  If you wait days or weeks to seek care (after the adrenaline rush wears off), that could leave open the question of the accident causing those injuries.  The longer the time between the accident and treatment, the more it can be argued that the accident did not cause the injuries.  The length of time seeking treatment can also be used in the argument the injuries were less severe.

       You should also consider being careful about what you say after the wreck and at the scene of the accident.  In court, a third party can testify to an admission of a party to being at fault.  This is despite normal hearsay rules.  You might think you are at fault and make admissions at the scene which can be used later to prove the case.  In many instances, those in accidents admit fault despite objective questions of fault by either party.  The problem with this comes down to perception, and perception can be clouded after an accident and during the adrenaline rush.  The best thing to do is remain quiet about fault even while helping others where appropriate.  

      Consider contacting an attorney at the earliest possible time after an accident. This person can help with directing you to treatment and how to handle insurance carriers during the process.  If the attorney is experienced, they will know the steps you should take to gather evidence including personal injury damages.  The attorney will likely take the case on contingency, meaning you should pay nothing unless the case brings an award (either by settlement or jury verdict).  The attorney will normally contract to take a third of the award.

      If you believe you are at threat of being sued after an accident, put your insurance carrier on notice.  You are entitled to a legal defense with your insurance, and that includes an attorney defending your case if you are sued.  If you are served with a complaint after the filing of a suit against you, immediately forward that to your insurance carrier and cooperate in your defense with their attorney.  I spent a number of years as an insurance defense attorney, and from experience know the insurance defense attorneys are usually experienced in handling defense cases.  Listen to them and work with them.

Update:  States differ on the issue of "collateral source" in determining damages the court can consider with personal injury.  South Carolina has the "Collateral Source Rule", in which the Court (Judge in a bench trial or jury) cannot consider the fact that a Plaintiff's bills were paid by an insurance company or another such collateral source.  This means that even if the insurance company paid the entire bill, the damages considered would be the bill before being paid by the insurance company and not a deductible (or any other type of sum paid to the Collateral Source).  Some states allow the Court to consider what was paid by the Collateral Source.

          Sometimes relevant to personal injury cases, but normally in the context of either family or probate cases, understanding the process of holding an adversarial party in contempt is critical.  When parties come to an agreement (which is then approved by the Court as an order) or when cases are adjudicated, they will result in an Order from the Court.  That Order should be followed by the parties, but in some cases, it is not. It is up to the "wronged" party to file against the offending party in those circumstances.  The procedure involved is the purpose of this article.
        Contempt of Court (outside of contemptible actions occurring in Court) occurs when a party has been proven to have disobeyed the Court. The usual context is with a party violating a Court Order.  This could be a temporary court order while waiting for a final hearing, violation of an order for something like child support, or a violation of a Final Order.  When a party has violated the Court Order, the other party must file a "Rule to Show Cause" with the Court in order to have a hearing for the Court to hold the violating party in Contempt.  The Rule to Show Cause allows parties due process to show there has been no violation, so it's up to the party bringing the Rule to show the violation of the Order.
       The filing of a Rule to Show cause includes a Petition (usually done by an attorney), in which the contempt is alleged.  This is done by including the Order being violated, the provision which was violated, and the allegation of the violation.  The petition is "validated" by the party (if Petition is done by an attorney) and usually includes the evidence of the violation.  This may include pictures, texts, affidavits, etc.  The Court reviews the Petition before granting a hearing, then notice (including the Petition and evidence) is given to the offending party.  The offending party is going to be given an opportunity to rebut the allegation at the hearing.
        The party bringing the Rule will have requested relief in the Order.  In other words, what they want the Court to order against the offending party.  Normally, this will include the attorney fees to bring the contempt action.  It will also remedy the violation. For example, if a party has not paid the proper child support, they will be ordered to do so with penalty/interest.  The Court can go so far as to Order a violating party to be jailed for a period of time.  For example, in the event of non-payment of child support, a party can be jailed until clearing the arrears. 
        It's important for clients to initiate a Rule to Show Cause at the first violation, or the other party will act with impunity. Inform the attorney, or bring the action Pro Se without an attorney.  In the end, it's about showing respect to the Court and justice.

The Bill Connor Law Firm

1408 Russell St

Orangeburg, SC 29115

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