Dave Whitener’s “Palmetto Logs”

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SC palmetto state

Two weeks ago, this blog paid tribute to the late, great Dave Whitener, a giant among real estate legal professionals in South Carolina. As suggested in that blog about Dave’s “Top Ten You Betters”, I also wanted to share with you Dave’s “Palmetto Logs”.

Several years before his death, Dave was asked to address the American Bar Association. The issue was whether a successful defense might be mounted if a federal agency attacked the rights now existing in South Carolina for lawyers, and only lawyers, to close real estate transactions. In that talk, Dave cited ten areas of defense that he called the Palmetto Logs. For non-South Carolinians, the palmetto log has traditionally been a symbol of protection for South Carolinians in time of war. South Carolina is nicknamed “The Palmetto State”.

Here are Dave’s suggested protections against an attack from outside our state for closings performed by licensed South Carolina attorneys:

Caselaw

  1. State v. Buyers Service, 292 S.C. 426, 357 S.E.2d 15 (1987). In this case, the South Carolina Supreme Court defined the practice of law in a residential real estate closing to include: certification of the title; preparation of the deed and loan closing documents, closing the transaction and overseeing recording.
  2. Doe v. Condon, 351 S.C. 158, 568 S.E.2d 356 (2002). In this case, the South Carolina Supreme Court reiterated and confirmed that the four protected areas set out in Buyer’s Service would also apply to residential refinances.
  3. Doe v. McMaster, 355 S.C. 306, 585 S.E.2d 773 (2003). In 2003, the South Carolina Supreme Court again reiterated its holding in Buyer’s Service.

Statutes and South Carolina Constitution

  1. C. Code §40-5-310 makes it a felony for an individual to participate in the unauthorized practice of law.
  2. C. Code §40-5-320 makes it a misdemeanor for a corporation or other entity to participate in the unauthorized practice of law.
  3. C. Code §37-10-102 gives a borrower the absolute right to choose the closing attorney in a residential loan closing. The statute provides for a $7,500 penalty if the disclosure is not given.
  4. South Carolina’s Constitution gives the S.C. Supreme Court the exclusive right to define the practice of law within South Carolina

Practical Considerations

  1. The low cost attributable to attorneys’ fees for residential closings in South Carolina. Dave believed the low cost would present a major difficulty if a federal agency argues that South Carolina’s practice is anti-competitive or increased prices.
  2. Major job losses would possibly result from the outsourcing of jobs to closing centers outside of South Carolina
  3. Major risks would be raised in turning over the duties now performed by experienced lawyers to unregulated and inexperienced lay persons.

I’m not sure whether Dave would say differently if he were here to analyze this topic for us today. I fear that the retirement of Chief Justice Jean Toal may have resulted in the loss of the South Carolina lawyer’s strongest advocate in the South Carolina Supreme Court. So far, the Palmetto Logs are holding strong, but some more recent cases from our Supreme Court give me some concern on this topic.

In any event, I am continually thankful for Dave Whitener and his influence, mentorship and friendship to South Carolina dirt lawyers!

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A Life Well Lived …

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Hugh Dave WhitenerHugh Dave Whitener, Jr.
September 14, 1944 – September 14, 2014

It is with great sadness, but with immense respect and admiration that South Carolina real estate lawyers, in conjunction with a host others, prepare to say farewell to Dave Whitener, who died this week after a long battle with cancer.

Dave was the consummate lawyer-educator who taught, mentored, nurtured and molded many of us in the practice of transactional law. He was a University of South Carolina School of Law Platinum Compleat Lawyer as well as an Adjunct Professor at that treasured school for 24 years. He was the ideal professor in that his love for the law was only exceeded by his love for students. He never taught from a theoretical ivory tower, but from a concrete point of view, grounded in decades of practical experience. As a result, he was awarded the school’s Excellence in Teaching and Distinguished Service Award.

Dave was an entertaining and engaging seminar speaker. A group of real estate lawyers can recite many of his best stories that were told well and often and always with a sense of humor.

He was a protector of our practice. Many of us remember the seminar several years ago when he first began speaking about “The Palmetto Logs”, a list of authorities beginning with the South Carolina Constitution and meandering through State v. Buyers Service Co., Inc., and its progeny. He encouraged us to use The Palmetto Logs to protect our practice from those who participate in the unauthorized practice of law, those who demean our practice, and those who seek to take it away from us.

We extend our condolences to our friend and Dave’s wife and law partner, Trisha Wharton Whitener, and to all of Dave’s family. And we send to them a word of appreciation for sharing him with us.