Tuesday, November 1, 2011
The Maryland Court of Appeals has imposed a reprimand of an attorney who cut-and-pasted a signature of an opposing attorney "with whom [he] had some history" on a stipulation filed with a court. The stipulation to which the signature was affixed had been altered.
The court majority (authored by Chief Judge Bell) concluded that the attorney had not engaged in willful misconduct as "while his alteration of the stipulation was intentional, he honestly believed that he was legally authorized to do so." There was no harm or prejudice as a result. The attorney did not benefit; rather, he lost his job.
Judge Adkins, joined by Judges Battaglia and Barbera, dissented:
...the majority has trivialized Respondent's serious misconduct of intentionally filing a forged document with the court. Whether Respondent intended to deceive the other attorney or not, he deceived the court when he presented a document that falsely purported to be signed by opposing counsel. This deserves more than a slap on the wrist.
The dissenters would impose a 90 day suspension.
One interesting aspect of the case is a history of animosity between the complaining attorney and the Respondent.
He had clerked for a firm while in law school where she was an associate attorney. She thought he was "arrogant and overbearing." He agreed that there was "bad blood" between them. He appears to have been motivated by anger and frustration with her.
The majority notes his expressions of remorse and efforts at rehabilitation: "These remedial actions dramatically reduce the likelihood that the conduct will be repeated." The dissent's take: "I submit that filing a forged document with the court, whether in a fit of pique at the other attorney or sheer aggressive behavior, is not to be so easily forgiven." (MIke Frisch)