Tuesday, July 9, 2013

We Hold These Untruths

The Maryland Court of Appeals has imposed a reprimand of an attorney who

granted a lender a security interest in his share of an anticipated attorney's fee from a judgment that was on appeal, later lied to the lender about the resolution of the judgment and receipt of the fee, and used the funds to pay other debts...

The court's opinion begins with

Most lawyers prize their integrity. The Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Responsibility ("MLRPC") enforce that ideal by requiring truthfulness in statements to other during the course of representation and candor toward tribunals and by prohibiting dishonest conduct. Human frailty being what it is, not all lawyers tell the truth all the time. It falls to this Court in its capacity as the principal regulator of the legal profession in Maryland to distinguish those untruths that violate the MLRPC from those that do not. For example, this Court has held that a lawyer who lies to his mistress about his fidelity in matters of the heart does not violate the MLRPC, even if the mistress is also a client. On the other hand, a lawyer who knowingly submits false documents to enhance an insurance claim concerning the lawyer's home is subject to discipline, even if the claim is not related to the lawyer's practice and the lawyer is not otherwise prosecuted.

Here, the attorney sought and received a short term loan from a private lender at a high interest rate,  due to his financial distress. The loan gave the lender a security interest in the fee from a specific case.

The hearing judge had found no ethical violations: "Lying to one's bill collector is akin to lying to one's mistress."

The court here noted a number of mitigating circumstances, including the attorney's military service, community reputation and evidence of intimidation by the lender and lender's counsel.

Chief Judge Bell dissented and would dismiss the charges.

For those who are interested, the "It's OK to lie to your mistress" precedent is linked here. The attorney was suspended for other ethical violations.

(Mike Frisch)


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