Friday, November 9, 2007
in April 2006, the Maryland Court of Appeals disbarred an attorney who had falsely represented to his firm that he had filed an appeal, fabricated court documents and filed periodic reports with the firm to perpetuate the deception, faked a phone call to the clerk's office and confirmed that the non-existent appeal remained pending. He did not present , so far as I can determine, any significant mitigating evidence.
This lawyer also is admitted in the District of Columbia. In a report filed November 6, 2007 (not yet available in electronic format), the Board on Professional Responsibility proposes that the attorney be permitted to practice in D.C. with no showing of present fitness. The Board reads a recent precedent as compelling a significantly more lenient sanction for serious dishonesty that persuades Maryland that the proper sanction is disbarment. Here, the Board finds that what it calls "intra-firm" dishonesty "does not imperil public confidence in the integrity of the profession in the same way as dishonesty directed at clients, third parties or the courts." Really? Also, the Board says the conduct was not criminal. Yes, actually forgery is a crime. The Board further finds that the lawyer's untimely report of the Maryland order to D.C. was mitigating, notwithstanding that all the lawyer did was comply with a court rule.
Then we get to fitness. Even though there were no proceedings in D.C., the Board treated the fitness issue as if there had been. Finding a lack of "clear and convincing evidence" of unfitness, the Board recommends an 18 month suspension back-dated to November 2006 (when the attorney was suspended pending resolution of the reciprocal proceeding). If adopted, the lawyer will be automatically reinstated when the D.C.Court of Appeals acts (which will take more than six months).
D.C. and Maryland share disciplinary authority over a great number of lawyers. This Board report is part of a truly disheartening and dangerous trend toward D.C. becoming the haven for every dishonest lawyer disbarred in Maryland. Does that inspire public confidence in the integrity of the profession?
Note that the lawyer also is admitted in Pennsylvania. It will be interesting to see if that jurisdiction will be as welcoming to a lawyer disbarred for serious dishonesty as D.C.'s Board. (Mike Frisch)