Monday, July 29, 2019

Hip Hop Defense Does Not Excuse Epithets

The Maryland Court of Appeals has disbarred an attorney admitted in 2005 for a plethora of violations including

In addition, the hearing judge concluded that Mr. Sanderson ran afoul of MLRPC 8.4(e) by making disparaging remarks towards Ms. Isom-Cyrus in his interaction with her at the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Several witnesses testified that Mr. Sanderson called Ms. Isom-Cyrus a "bitch[,]" while she testified that Mr. Sanderson referred to her as a "baby-snatching bitch[.]" At oral argument, Mr. Sanderson argued that the use of the term alone does constitute conduct sufficient to support a violation of the Rule. He alluded to the casual usage of racial epithets in hip-hop music and argued that, in some usages, derogative terms can imply some level of respect rather than disdain. However, Mr. Sanderson’s comparison is inapt as his exchange with Ms. Isom-Cyrus in no way demonstrated any such level of respect.

When Mr. Sanderson made the disparaging remarks shortly after a CINA hearing in which Ms. Isom-Cyrus represented the BCDSS, he was acting within his professional capacity at the time. Clearly, based on the verbiage alone, Mr. Sanderson in his exchange with Ms. Isom-Cyrus, knowingly manifested bias or prejudice based upon sex, through his words, while acting in a professional capacity in violation of MLRPC 8.4(e). Accordingly, our independent review of the record leads us to conclude that the hearing judge’s conclusion is supported by clear and convincing as to this violation.

Sanction

Disbarment is often warranted in situations where an attorney neglects or abandons clients, makes misrepresentations to clients and Bar Counsel, and knowingly misappropriates funds. Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Edwards, 462 Md. 642, 712 (2019). We have previously held, that "[w]hen a pattern of intentional misrepresentations is involved, particularly those misrepresentations that attempt to conceal other misconduct by the attorney, disbarment will ordinarily be the appropriate sanction." Attorney 68  Grievance Comm’n v. Framm, 449 Md. 620, 667 (2016). In addition, "[c]onduct involving dishonesty, fraud, or deceit, carries the risk of the ultimate sanction by this Court." Maldonado, 463 Md. at 56 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Keiner, 421 Md. 492, 523 (2011). In his communications with Ms. Ozel, Mr. Sanderson engaged in such a pattern of intentional misrepresentations, which were made in attempt to cover up his prior transgressions and to interfere in Bar Counsel’s investigation. Mr. Sanderson clearly demonstrated conduct characterized by dishonesty or deceit through his impermissible handling of client funds on numerous occasions.

In this case, we sustain the hearing judge’s findings that Mr. Sanderson violated MLRPC 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.15, 3.4, 8.1, and 8.4. In addition, we sustain the hearing judge’s conclusion that Mr. Sanderson violated Maryland Rules §§ 19-410, 19-407, 19-408, and BOP § 10-306. Furthermore, Mr. Sanderson, as an attorney, failed to demonstrate the requisite competence, diligence, and communicative abilities required of the profession. Additionally, he engaged in a widespread pattern of misusing client funds, failing to properly maintain records associated with his attorney trust account, and engaged in conduct which has the potentiality to bring the profession into disrepute.

Based on our assessment of Mr. Sanderson’s misconduct, the existence of aggravating factors, and the absence of any mitigating factors, we agree with Bar Counsel and hold that disbarment is the only appropriate sanction. For the above reasons, we disbarred Mr. Sanderson and awarded costs against him by per curiam order dated April 5, 2019.

(Mike Frisch)

 

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