Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Attorney Grievance Commission v. Mba-Jonas (Ct. of Appeals)

Decided March 20, 2007 -- Opinion of Chief Judge Robert M. Bell

Respondent had entered a Condition Diversion Agreement ("CDA") with Petitioner ("the Commission") after a client complaint to Petitioner, the specifics of which complaint were not identified. Respondent's monitor ("Monitor") under the CDA came to learn of escrow account irregularities in Respondent's account including three overdrafts, one of which post-dated the execution of the CDA, and that settlement funds pertaining to one client's accident case were used to satisfy other escrow payments for other clients and to third-party medical care providers who had not treated that client.

The Commission charged Respondent with violations of
  • MLRPC Rule 1.15 Safekeeping Property
  • MLRPC Rule 8.1 Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters
  • MLRPC Rule 8.4 (a) and (d) Misconduct, as adopted by Rule 16-812
  • Rule 16-604
  • Rule 16-607
  • Rule 16-609
  • Maryland Code, BP §§10-304,-306 and -307.
The Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County found violations of Rules 1.15 and 8.4(a) and of Rule 16-604 and -607, but no other violations, and noted mitigation evidence in Respondent's lack of intent to deceive and personal difficult circumstances.

The Commission filed four exceptions to the Maryland Court of Appeals, regarding the Circuit Court's failure to find violations of Rule 16-609, Code § 10-306 and Rules 8.1 and Rule 8.4(d). The Court of Appeals sustained the Commission's first three exceptions but overruled it on
the matter of Rule 8.4(d), noting that the Commission's reliance on the existence of contradictory testimony at the fact hearing was not a proper basis for a valid exception to the hearing judge's finding on that point.

The Court of Appeals noted the breadth of Rule violations in this case and the failure of Respondent to take the opportunity that the Commission afforded him under the CDA. Examining prior precedents involving conduct similar to Respondent's but also critically distinguished therefrom, the Court of Appeals suspended Respondent indefinitely with leave to reapply for reinstatement after 90 days.

The full opinion is available here in PDF format.

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