Thursday, July 24, 2008
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)