Wednesday, December 31, 2014
On December 23, 2014, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a detailed opinion explaining the disbarment of Attorney Michael C. Hodes, in proceedings initiated by the state's Attorney Grievance Commission. Hodes, an attorney with 39 years of experience, reportedly held himself out as concentrating his practice in estate planning and elder law. At the core of the charges against Hodes was "self-dealing," by improperly using money from a specific decedent's account and over $270,00 from a related trust account for his own needs. He attempted to avoid disbarment, arguing that the sums should be characterized as a loan, that he had made restitution and his alleged misconduct was not in his role as an "attorney."
The Court concluded, however, that an attorney can be disciplined for violations of Rules of Professional Conduct, including conflict of interest, arising from conduct as an agent and trustee for an irrevocable trust created from assets from a decedent's estate, even if the attorney had been acting in a personal or non-legal capacity.
Hodes argued as mitigation that he had an established reputation as a trustworthy and knowledgeable attorney, with no prior history of disciplinary sanctions, and pointed to his roles as an adjunct professor at two area law schools and his role as a regular commentator on "elder law" for the radio. The court was unpersuaded, observing, "Yet, with all of his knowledge and experience in the practice areas of elder law and estates and trusts, Respondent displayed a remarkable lack of insight into his professional responsibility as an attorney and fiduciary. He continued to insist that he had taken a 'loan' of $270,000.00 from the Trust in order to pay personal bills, as if this form of self-dealing was acceptable."
The Maryland Court of Appeals also rejected Hodes' argument that the sanction of disbarment was excessive, as compared to prior disciplinary cases. The Court noted that to the extent the cases could be cited as permitting leniency for intentional misconduct, they "are no longer part of our modern attorney discipline jurisprudence."
For more, see here (Baltimore Business Journal), describing Michael Hodes' future plans.