Monday, December 18, 2006

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

Filed December 18, 2006 - Opinion by Chief Judge Robert M. Bell.

Upon disciplinary referral from the Court of Appeals, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City found the following facts to be true:

1. Respondent agreed to represent the complainant, an interested party in a unfiled decedent's estate, and took a retainer for such representation. The decedent had domiciled in Montgomery County, but Respondent agreed to pursue a claim of the decedent's estate in Anne Arundel County regarding decedent's real estate claims there involving a disputed debt and lien. Respondent failed to open an estate in Anne Arundel County, and ignored several notices from the Registrar of Wills and the Orphans' Court of that county including an adverse petition for judicial probate.

2. Respondent represented to the complainant that he was able to proceed in Maryland or the District of Columbia without assistance of other counsel. Respondent did proceed to file a civil action in the District of Columbia with an attorney barred in that jurisdiction, but Respondent was not a barred attorney in the District of Columbia at any time relevant.

3. Respondent made a further false representation on his pro hac vice motion to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, stating that he had no open disciplinary actions in Maryland when the Attorney Grievance Commission has opened and notified Respondent of a then-unresolved disciplinary proceeding approximately two months prior to his statement. Due to service of process issues, the civil action co-filed by Respondent was dismissed twice without prejudice, but Respondent falsely represented to the complainant on one such dismissal that the case had merely been continued, not dismissed.

4. The Orphans' Court for Anne Arundel County proceeded to transfer the related probate case to the Orphans' Court for Montgomery County, but Respondent failed to make many required estate filings in that court, prompting a threat of discharge of the complainant as personal representative of the decedent's estate and her discharge of Respondent as her counsel.

5. During the period of Respondent's failure to act, the size of a disputed debt claim against the decedent's estate rose from approximately $50,000,00 to $57,000.00 and continued to grow with interest thereafter.

The Circuit Court for Baltimore City found violations of Rules 1.1 (competence), 1.3 (diligence) (two such violations), 1.4 (a) (duty to keep client informed) and (b) (duty to explain for informed decision-making), 1.5(a) (fees commensurate with services) and 8.4 (misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.)

Neither party took subsequent exception to these findings of fact or of Rule violations by the Circuit Court. The Court of Appeals accordingly accepted them as established for purposes of imposing a sanction. Respondent had already been suspended indefinitely by the Court of Appeals for the conduct giving rise to the disciplinary action identified in paragraph 3 above. In light of that aggravating factor and weighing the totality of Respondent's dishonest and unprofessional conduct in this matter, the Court of Appeals disbarred Respondent.

The full opinion is available in WPD and PDF.

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