Sunday, May 6, 2007

In the Matter of R.M.W. (U.S.D.C.)(Approved for Publication)

Signed May 1, 2007--Opinion by Judges Peter J. Messitte, Benson E. Legg, and Andre M. Davis. Approved for publication.

R.M.W., a former member of the Bar of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, was convicted of several felonies and as a result lost his bar membership. He petitioned for readmission to membership. Previously in this case, the U.S. District Court, en banc, had ruled that the standards applicable to the evaluation of application for membership in the Bar by individuals convicted of felonies should also apply to applications for readmission.

The case involving admissions to the Bar, In the Matter of S.G.P., 428 F.Supp. 2d 389 (D. Md. 2006) overruled In the Matter of G.L.S., 586 F.Supp. 375 (D. Md. 1984), and established new criteria for the evaluation of applications and reapplications for membership in the Bar by individuals convicted of felonies.

The factors to be considered are as follows:

1. The nature and character of the offense or offenses committed;

2. The number and duration of offenses and the sentence as to each;

3. The period of any probation or supervised release term and whether the petitioner's adjustment to same was satisfactory;

4. The age and maturity of the applicant when the offenses were committed;

5. The grant or denial of a pardon for any offenses committed;

6. Whether the petitioner was disbarred by any other court;

7. The number of years that have elapsed since the last offense was committed, and the presence or absence of misconduct during that period;

8. Whether the petitioner has complied in all respects with the terms and conditions of prior disciplinary or remedial orders, including the payment of any costs ordered by the disbarring court;

9. Whether the petitioner has engaged or attempted or offered to engage in the unauthorized practice of law;

10. With regard to any incapacity or infirmity (including alcohol or drug abuse), whether it has ceased to exist and is not reasonably likely to recur in the future;

11. Whether the petitioner recognizes the wrongfulness and seriousness of the professional misconduct for which discipline was imposed;

12. Whether the petitioner currently has the requisite honesty and integrity to practice law;

13. The opinions of character witnesses about the applicant's moral fitness;

14. Whether the petitioner has kept informed about recent developments in the law and is competent to practice law;

15. Any other re-admissions to the bar since the petitioner's disbarment;

16. Any other matter that the petitioner may deem relevant to the application or that may be specifically requested by the Court.

R.M.W. began to practice law in his home town, Frederick, Maryland, immediately after graduating law school and passing the bar in 1975. Having used marijuana and other drugs as early as his high school days, by the late 1970's he had become addicted to cocaine and alcohol. In his law practice, much of which involved representation of clients charged with drinking and driving offenses and family matters, he was often paid in cash which he intentionally failed to report as income. This unreported income was used to purchase cocaine for his own consumption such that, during the period of time before his arrest, he was spending between $30,000 and $40,000 a year on his drug habit.

In September 1982, a search warrant was executed on Respondent's residence, which ultimately led to felony convictions both in Maryland state courts (state tax offenses) and federal court (drug offenses) and his disbarment from membership in the Maryland U.S.D.C. He spent a little more than nine months in various federal and Maryland detention facilities.

R.M.W. was suspended from the practice of law by the Maryland Court of Appeals in April 1985 and disbarred on June 4, 1987. He was disbarred by the Maryland U.S.D.C. on July 10, 1984.

R.M.W. was reinstated to the Maryland Bar by Order dated January 7, 2000 signed by Chief Judge Bell for the Maryland Court of Appeals, "with a majority of the Court concurring." He was returned to the Registry of Attorneys on February 3, 2000. Since that time he has satisfied the conditions set forth in that Order in every respect.

The opinion relates in detail the story of R.M.W.'s rehabilitation. As noted in the opinion, the report of the special investigator appointed by the court found that "One Judge [in Frederick County] described Respondent as 'a poster child' for rehabilitation. All the Judges [in Frederick County] enthusiastically support [his] current petition for reinstatement."

In concluding, the panel said as follows:
This Court believes that dishonesty involved in evading income taxes and in not filing tax returns has always been a serious matter. Drug activity today has become a matter of prime concern in the criminal justice system. Indeed, were [R.M.W.'s] cases to have come before a federal court in 2007, it is clear that the punishment to be imposed would be considerably more severe than that which was imposed by the state and federal judges in the mid-1980's.

But whatever the courts of some jurisdictions may believe about the permanent disqualification to serve as an attorney of an individual who has been convicted of a crime of dishonesty, this Court, joining the majority of courts, takes a different view. The Court believes that, when sufficient time has passed since the criminal activity, when there is manifest indication of the individual’s rehabilitation and remorse as well as his skill to serve as an attorney, when all that is presented to the Court in a clear and convincing matter, there is still room for someone to rejoin (or indeed to join in the first instance) the ranks of the Bar of this Court.

Accordingly, the Court concludes that [R.M.W.'s] rehabilitation is genuine and that he does indeed represent a benchmark for attorneys similarly situated who would seek reinstatement in our Bar.

A copy of the opinion is available in PDF as is a copy of the order. Note: As of this posting, the link provided here is correct, while the link to the opinion on the Court's website is not.

Update: A memorandum in this case by the special investigator appointed by the Court as to the issue of whether there is criminal conduct so serious or heinous to preclude reinstatement has been posted here.The Court ordered that the memorandum be attached to the opinion and recommended it for publication because "the memorandum is extraordinarily thorough in its exposition of a very important issue not well illuminated by the case law which would almost certainly prove useful to other courts facing the issue."

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