Lawyer Avoids Disbarment by One Vote

The Maryland Daily Record reports that a Rockville lawyer was suspended by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The slim minority of the court – 4-3 decision – voted for disbarment.

I don’t know how I would vote on this. He failed to keep an IOLTA account, which is a huge problem. The second “error” he made was loaning money to his client’s relatives. Both are incredibly obvious no-nos.

These are bad offenses but not crimes of intent to cause anyone harm at the lawyer’s own expense. But adding salt to the wound in the dissent’s view was what brings down most people: the cover-up. Ask Nixon or Clinton. Judge Harrell’s dissent makes clear that he did not find he was honest with bar counsel during its investigation.

The absence of “selfish or dishonest motives” generally, as found there by the hearing judge, may influence the sanction, but have no bearing on whether the violative conduct was unintentional or negligent in the first instance… Considered together, we are confronted with intentional misappropriation, negligent misappropriation, an obvious conflict of interest, and intentional misrepresentations to Bar Counsel in the course of an investigation. This array, I think, cuts to the core of what we should expect minimally from a Maryland lawyer. “Candor and truthfulness are two of the most important moral character
traits of a lawyer.”

A footnote to Judge Harrell’s dissent shows that it “is probably of no great moment” to the lawyer whether the court disbars him because he intends to retire. It might have had some impact on the Maryland Court of Appeals’ decision. I would think that you would hate to send a guy into retirement with a disbarment after what the majority opinion indicated was 40 years in practice. (Of course, this begs the question: why are you operating without an IOLTA account after 40 years of practicing law?)

You can find the full opinion here.