July 24, 2008
Taking Case Violated Duty Of Competence
The Maryland Court of Appeals suspended an attorney for 90 days for ethical violations in two matters. The second matter is the interesting one - the client had filed a pro se suit against Montgomery County Crime Solvers claiming $500,000 as a reward for information that he had provided concerning the Beltway Sniper case. He also claimed to have provided information concerning the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein and sought $12.5 million for that information and another $12.5 million upon arrest. The trial court dismissed the claims.
The client was then referred by legal aid to an experienced lawyer, who declined the case. The sanctioned lawyer thereafter accepted a $3,500 non-refundable retainer plus 1/3 of amounts recovered to take on the case. The lawyer, unsurprisingly, "determined that there was little, if any, likelihood that the trial court's judgment could be overturned." He made a few phone calls and kept the full retainer fee.
Here, the court held that the lawyer violated his duty of competence "by agreeing to undertake a case that patently had no merit..." He also had failed to communicate with the client and collected an unreasonable fee: "he was not at liberty to accept money from [the client] for the representation. Any money he received...was unearned. " (Mike Frisch)
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