Law Updates

Attorney Disbarment Warranted When Funds Commingled and No Legal Services Provided

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Attorney, Misc. Docket AG No. 14 (Md. 2011) | View pdf

(March 1, 2011) Lydia S. Hu, Associate.

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The Attorney agreed to undertake the representation of two separate Clients for matters involving bankruptcy proceedings. The Attorney accepted partial fee payments from both Clients and deposited them into his personal bank account. He did not obtain consent in writing to deposit the advanced fee payments in a bank account other than a client trust account.

When the Clients attempted to contact the Attorney a few months later, they each discovered that his law office in Germantown, Maryland was closed and the number had been disconnected. The Attorney did not file the bankruptcy cases for either client.

Both Clients complained to the Attorney Grievance Commission in June 2009. Bar Counsel’s attempts to communicate with the Attorney were fruitless and prompted retention of an investigator. The investigator left multiple phone messages at the Attorney’s home and made an unannounced visit in 2009. During the unannounced visit, the Attorney agreed to speak to the investigator and admitted that both Clients made partial fee payments that had been deposited into his personal bank account. He also admitted that he no longer maintained an active trust account. The Attorney expressed a willingness to refund the payments and acknowledged his duty to respond to the Attorney Grievance Complaint.

Despite the Attorney’s conversation with the investigator, no refund of the fee payments was made and no Answer to the Complaint was filed. On April 19, 2010, the Attorney was served with process and a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action. When he failed to file a timely Answer, the Court entered an Order of Default.

Judge Boynton of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County conducted an evidentiary hearing, for which the Attorney did not appear. Evidence was presented and testimony was taken showing that the Attorney commingled funds, failed to communicate with his Clients, failed to protect his Clients’ interests by providing reasonable notice of termination of representation. Such actions violated multiple provisions of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically Rules 1.3, 1.4, 1.15, 1.16(d), 8.1(b), and 8.4(a) and (d).

The Court of Appeals reviewed Judge Boynton’s findings of fact. Neither Bar Counsel nor the Attorney made any exceptions to Judge Boynton’s findings of fact or conclusions of law. Accordingly, the findings are established for the purposes of determining the proper sanction. The Court explained that neglect of client affairs, including failure to communicate with Clients and respond to inquiries from Bar Counsel, warrants the imposition of disbarment. In the instant case, the Attorney’s failure to communicate with his Clients and failure to appropriately manage funds warranted disbarment.