EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Friday, June 5, 2015

Contextualizing Cristina Gutierrez's Disbarment

Recently, I contacted the Client Protection Fund of the Bar of Maryland to try to see whether I could get more information about the twenty (or more) client complaints that precipitated the disbarment of Cristina Gutierrez, the attorney who represented Adnan Syed. Unfortunately (but understandably), I was told that such complaints are confidential. That said, I was directed to this Press Release, which gives some additional context to Gutierrez's disbarment. According to the Press Release,

During their quarterly meeting on June 26, Trustees of the Clients' Security Trust Fund, now known as the Client Protection Fund of the Bar of Maryland, agreed to pay out more than $112,000 to claimants whose attorney was found to have kept money to which he/she was not entitled. 

“The bulk of the money paid out to claimants was due to attorneys not doing the work that they promised,” said Fund Trustee Isaac Hecht. “We sincerely hope that the public realizes that these attorneys are a few bad apples in an otherwise reputable group.”

More than half the money paid out at the Trustee meeting was to clients of M. Cristina Gutierrez, who consented to disbarment in May. According to Hecht, Gutierrez failed to hold property of clients separately from her own, did not refund advanced fees that were not earned, and misappropriated funds intended to be used for third-party payments. 

So, the Fund had to pay out at least $56,000.01 to Gutierrez's clients based upon, inter alia, failing to do the work that she promised and misappropriating/failing to refund monies paid to her by her clients. Among the "bad apples" in Maryland, Gutierrez was responsible for more malfeasance than all of the other "bad apples" combined.



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Did you check with Rabia or Adnan's family to see if they applied to the fund for compensation?

Posted by: Seamus Duncan | Jun 5, 2015 9:12:58 AM

No. As I said before, though, the types of ineffective assistance that Adnan allegedly received weren't really the type that would lead to recovery under the Fund.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 5, 2015 9:32:22 AM

Just to clarify, was that a no that you didn’t check with them, or a no, they did not file for compensation?

Posted by: Seamus Duncan | Jun 5, 2015 9:37:45 AM

I haven't checked.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 5, 2015 9:40:34 AM

Shamim testified that they paid Gutierrez $10,000 in cash for a jury expert that she never hired. Rabia claimed Gutierrez was paid $5000 to bus the jury to the burial location, which never happened. Would those be grounds to file for compensation from the state fund?

Posted by: Seamus Duncan | Jun 5, 2015 9:47:36 AM

Hmm Makes me wonder what evidence they had to deny the case you mention payment from the fund? Could it have been possible that C.G was so ill that it effected her work habits and she forgot to do the stuff she claimed that she was going to do? I think so.

Posted by: Jim M. | Jun 5, 2015 10:11:16 AM

Seamus: Yes, those could support a claim.

Jim M.: In the case, the court found negligence by Gutierrez but that negligence wasn't enough.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 5, 2015 10:13:21 AM

Well, could you please ask Rabia if Adnan's family applied to the fund for money? If you're going to cite these claims as evidence Gutierrez may have been ineffective in Adnan's case, and Adnan's mother and Rabia claim Gutierrez did mishandle their money, isn't it a fair question to ask if Adnan's family was in fact compensated from this fund?

Posted by: Seamus Duncan | Jun 5, 2015 10:19:41 AM

"Among the "bad apples" in Maryland, Gutierrez was responsible for more malfeasance than all of the other "bad apples" combined." The potential fallacy in this, is that all that money could have come from a single client at time when she was truly ill. That would be very different than systematically cheating several clients out a few hundred or a couple of thousand here and there. The context you suggest is not at all neutral, it is editorial and advocacy.

Posted by: NewInfo | Jun 5, 2015 10:41:37 AM

Seamus: I'll check.

Newinfo: From the Ong case, it looks like 16 claims were being actively investigated at the time that Gutierrez agreed to be disbarred. As I said, I can't get information about exactly which claims led to compensation, but the two clients mentioned in Sarah Koenig's article:


were represented before (Damario) and during (Witman) Adnan's case.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 5, 2015 10:57:19 AM

Colin, you might want to check with the attorney grievance commission in Maryland to see if they ever filed a public disciplinary proceedings against Gutierrez. I know in Illinois, any complaint filed as well as the subsequent reports and ultimate decisions are public information.

Ps I'm a former student of yours from JMLS!

Posted by: Emily Adams | Jun 5, 2015 1:10:39 PM

Emily: Good to hear from you. I did call the Attorney Grievance Commission in Maryland, but they said that none of the information was publicly available.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 5, 2015 3:58:00 PM

Quote: were represented before (Damario) and during (Witman) Adnan's case.

I don't think this has been highlighted enough. Everybody constantly says she wasn't sick during Adnan's trial, as if to suggest there's no evidence she wasn't at peak performance during that time, but this suggests she was already compromised in some way even before he was even being represented at all, which to me is a big deal.

Posted by: Absurdamerica | Jun 7, 2015 9:49:37 AM

Were you able to find out if Adnan's family ever submitted a claim?

Posted by: Seamus Duncan | Jun 8, 2015 8:29:01 AM

They never filed a claim because they were unaware that the Fund existed.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 9, 2015 8:01:05 AM


I feel like you are building to a point here about the family filing a claim or not. Any think you want to follow up with now that you know?!

Posted by: Curious | Jun 9, 2015 10:16:12 AM

Is there a time limit on making claims to the Fund?

Posted by: Cupcake | Jun 9, 2015 1:06:45 PM

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