Thursday, December 14, 2006

Attorney Grievance Commission v. Manger (Ct. of Appeals)

December 14, 2006--Opinion by Chief Judge Robert M. Bell

Respondent, who was 75 and in practice for 48 years in Maryland and for shorter times in D.C. and California, had very little civil trial experience and virtually no experience in family law and custody matters. Nonetheless, in 2002 he undertook the representation of the complainant in a custody dispute with her ex-husband, to set aside a consent custody order entered the previous year, which had been based in part on the diagnosis of complainant as suffering bipolar disorder with paranoid tendencies.

In early 2003, after meeting with the complainant over fifty times and spending many hours of general background research, but without consulting the relevant Maryland rules, statutes or case law, respondent filed a petition, supported by the complainant's affidavit, declarations of persons who knew the complainant, and a memorandum of law raising the theory that the diagnosis was false, the licensed psychologist who made the diagnosis was incompetent to do so, and that the psychiatric community was engaged in "pseudo science." For these services, respondent billed the complainant for $25,000, and later in 2003 filed suit against complainant for his unpaid fees.

Respondent had been the subject of earlier disciplinary proceedings, in California in 1990 and, as a result of the California proceedings, in Maryland in 1993.

Upon consideration of these matters, the hearing court found support for violation of Rules 1.1, Competence, 1.5(a), Fees, 3.1, Meritorius Claims and Contentions, and 8.4(d), Misconduct, but did not violate Rules 1.3, Diligence, or 1.4(b), Communication and found some mitigating circumstances.

Based on the hearing court's findings, the petitioner filed its recommendation for sanction, indefinite suspension, and noted its exception to the hearing court's failure to find that the respondent acted in bad faith and with intent to defraud the complainant, and was not in fact contrite. The respondent failed to formally file an exception, but did file to urge that a lesser sanction be applied due to the unique circumstances presented in this matter.

The Court of Appeals overruled petitioner's exception, finding ample evidence to support the findings of fact made by the hearing court, and the conclusions drawn from those findings of fact. Nonetheless, the sanction of indefinite suspension was upheld, since the conduct, while not rising to the level that would require disbarment, was quite serious and could not be condoned, and left the issue of the efficacy of proposed "safeguards" until consideration of whether to readmit the respondent is raised later.

The full opinion is available in WordPerfect or PDF format.

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