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The State Disciplinary Hearing Commission has suspended a Shallotte lawyer for one year, according to a Dec. 2 news release from the North Carolina State Bar.
Susan M. Saturno admitted to signing and notarizing her signature of her client’s name to a document required by her client’s lender in a refinance transaction.
After serving the one-year suspension, Saturno may apply for reinstatement to active practice with the State Bar upon compliance with various conditions.
Saturno, who was admitted to the state bar March 1, 1996, was practicing law and maintained a law office in Ocean Isle Beach before her suspension.
According to the findings from the Disciplinary Commission, in or around August 2011, Saturno was instructed by her client’s lender to prepare a road maintenance agreement and have the client execute the agreement at closing.
Saturno failed to have her client execute the agreement at closing, and the client did not sign the agreement at closing, nor did the client authorize anyone to sign the agreement on the client’s behalf.
Instead, after the closing took place, Saturno signed her client’s name to the agreement and notarized her signature of her client’s name on the agreement before filing and recorded the agreement at the Brunswick County Register of Deeds Office.
The disciplinary committee found that Saturno “failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client” and engaged in conduct involving “dishonesty, deceit or misrepresentation and engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.”
The committee determined Saturno did not intent to defraud the parties to the transaction, but her conduct “demonstrated a lack of honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity in representing her client.”
Saturno has since filed a corrected agreement containing the client’s actual signature with the Register of Deeds.
Despite enjoying a “reputation of honesty, integrity and good character in her professional and personal life,” Saturno “caused potential significant harm to the standing of the legal profession in the eyes of the public in that such conduct by attorneys erodes the trust of the public in the profession,” according to the commission.
The hearing panel determined that although this was a case of misrepresentation, Saturno would not face disbarment.
Saturno can file a petition seeking reinstatement up to 30 days before the end of the one-year period, but cannot be reinstated before the full year’s suspension is complete.
Sam Hickman is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.