Wednesday, March 21, 2007

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

Filed March 21, 2007--Opinion by Chief Judge Robert M. Bell.

Respondent was retained by Edward Beier to prepare and obtain an Eligible Domestic Relations Order ("EDRO") necessary to enable him to obtain half of his ex-wife's State employee's retirement benefit. In his engagement letter, Respondent conditioned commencement of work on payment by Beier of a minimum fee of $500.00, of which $200.00 was paid on the date of retention and the balance more than three months later. Despite Beier's numerous requests, Respondent did not prepare the EDRO or cause it to be executed prior to Beier's remarriage and consequent ineligibility to share in his ex-wife's pension. After several letters and telephone calls over the course of four months from Bar Counsel, Respondent provided Bar Counsel with a written response and refunded Beier's entire fee, admitting he had done no work on Beier's case.

In the meanwhile, Respondent was retained to represent John Wilson in connection with a domestic relations case involving visitation and access issues relating to his daughter. Respondent was paid a $2,000.00 retainer, attended a pre-trial conference with his client, his client's ex-wife and her counsel, and, as a result of an agreement, agreed on the record to prepare and submit a written consent order within two weeks of that date. Despite calls from the Master's office, Respondent had not prepared the order for more than six months. In response to an Order from the Circuit Court for Respondent to appear in court and "explain the reason for his failure to submit the order and show cause why sanctions and costs should not be imposed," he prepared a consent order, sent it to opposing counsel and submitted it, signed by both counsel, to the court on the date scheduled for the show cause hearing. Respondent neither sent the consent order to his client for review, nor even inform his client that he had prepared one.

Based on the findings of fact, the hearing court concluded that Respondent, by failing to act expeditiously in both cases, by not timely preparing the EDRO in the Beier case and by his delay in preparing the consent order in the Wilson case, violated Rule 1.3. The inaction in the Beier case was, in addition, a violation of Rule 8.4(d). The hearing court further concluded that in each case, Respondent violated Rule 1.4.

Having found the rules violations charged, the hearing court also offered findings of mitigation. Neither Petitioner nor Respondent filed exceptions to the hearing court's findings of fact or conclusions of law. While both appeared at oral argument and offered their respective recommendations orally, only the Petitioner submitted a written recommendation, urging Respondent's suspension for a one year period.

The purpose of attorney discipline is not to punish the erring attorney but to protect the unsuspecting public. Respondent presented evidence, and the hearing court found the existence of, mitigating factors which, it concluded, were responsible, at least in part, for Respondent's misconduct. Additionally, Respondent expressed remorse and, consistently, there was testimony that such conduct was out of character for him. Taken together, it may be inferred that Respondent's misconduct is not likely to be repeated. Accordingly, the court found the public will be protected if a thirty-day suspension from the practice of law is imposed.

The full opinion is available in PDF.

No comments: