Saturday, June 27, 2020

From Diversion To Disbarment

The Maryland Court of Appeals disbarred an attorney for multiple violations that began with a matter in which the complaint response was part of the misconduct

From the outset of our interaction, [former client's mother] Ms. Lyles impressed me as dishonest and untrustworthy. When she first retained me, she indicated that she could pay my fees, in part, by “selling” me some of the purses her son had stolen during his theft spree. When I expressed my surprise and disapproval at such a proposal, Ms. Lyles tried to suggest it was “a joke.” I have no doubt she has acted as her son’s accomplice in his theft scheme….

Peggy Lyles is a malicious and disingenuous person. She apparently acts as a broker for her son’s stolen property, which makes her just as guilty of theft as her son.

The attorney entered into a diversion agreement with conditions

Respondent and Bar Counsel entered into a Conditional Diversion Agreement (“CDA”) under Maryland Rule 19-716. The Attorney Grievance Commission approved the CDA on November 15, 2017, and stayed the underlying disciplinary matter. In the CDA, Respondent conceded that she violated MLRPC Rule 8.1(b) when she failed to timely and completely respond to Bar Counsel, and that she violated MLRPC Rule 8.4(d) when she made disparaging comments about Ms. Lyles.

This matter resumed when

the Attorney Grievance Commission found Respondent to be in material default of the CDA, revoked the CDA, and lifted the stay of the disciplinary proceeding against Respondent relating to Ms. Lyles’s Complaint.

There were other complaints including a matter that involved interactions with her client's minor victim

In or about November 2016, Eric Solomon retained Respondent to represent him in a case pending in the District Court, in which he was charged with crimes relating to allegations that he sexually assaulted K.J., his 16-year-old minor cousin.

During the pendency of the case in the District Court, Respondent invited and met with K.J. at her office. K.J. was 17 at the time and accompanied by her parents, but Respondent insisted on meeting with K.J. alone. During the meeting, K.J. told Respondent that she did not want her family to know about her sexual history and drug and alcohol use. Respondent advised K.J. of the types of cross-examination questions that might be asked if the case went to trial, and told K.J. that her personal information could be admitted into evidence through her testimony, including the fact that K.J. had asked her sister and cousin for a ride to CVS to purchase a Plan B pill. Additionally, Respondent told K.J. that she had difficulty believing that K.J. had been raped, that her statements did not evidence criminal assault but rather inappropriate and embarrassing behavior, and that K.J. was blaming someone else because that is what young women do when they regret their decisions about sex. Respondent also discussed topics with K.J. that were unrelated to the alleged incident, including gender discrimination and cultural issues. Respondent encouraged K.J. to take advantage of her American residency, educate herself, and work on shedding all the shame and discrimination that, Respondent believed, defined K.J.’s experience.

The hearing judge found

Respondent’s true purpose for meeting with K.J. was not to investigate her client’s case, but rather to improperly dissuade K.J. from participating in the criminal prosecution of her client, Mr. Solomon. In speaking with K.J., Respondent intentionally emphasized the potential embarrassment she might suffer if the case proceeded to trial and took advantage of a vulnerable minor’s insecurities. Respondent intended for her comments to discourage K.J. from cooperating, which, by no coincidence, would have benefitted her client. Furthermore, Respondent intentionally obfuscated her role as counsel for K.J.’s alleged abuser by initiating a personal conversation with K.J. involving subjects unrelated to the criminal case, such as gender discrimination and cultural issues, and then exchanging personal text messages with her after the meeting. In doing so, Respondent gained K.J.’s trust and misled her to believe that she was an advocate for her best interest. Respondent’s actions were intended to benefit her client, the person accused of assaulting K.J.

The attorney referred K.J. to an attorney with whom she had a prior professional relationship

Based on the communications between Respondent and [attorney] Ms. Ademiluyi and Respondent’s meeting with K.J., the hearing judge found that “Respondent was attempting to use Ms. Ademiluyi to further aid Respondent’s efforts to improperly dissuade K.J. from cooperating with the State in their prosecution of Mr. Solomon. The fact that Mr. Solomon’s father was willing to pay Ms. Ademiluyi’s fee is further evidence that Ms. Ademiluyi was being used to help Mr. Solomon.”

On the first day of trial, October 10, 2017, Respondent and her co-counsel requested a continuance because Mr. Solomon was in the hospital following a suicide attempt on the prior evening. During the hearing, the State argued that Mr. Solomon and his family were involved in a campaign to influence K.J. against cooperating in the case.

The hearing judge found that the attorney made false statements to the court in response.

The court sustained the findings of misconduct and concludes

Disbarment is the appropriate sanction for Respondent’s numerous and severe violations of the MLRPC and MARPC. Respondent exhibited dishonesty on multiple occasions. She brought the legal profession into serious disrepute through those acts of dishonesty, and through her attempts to dissuade K.J., an alleged victim of sexual abuse, from cooperating in the prosecution of her alleged abuser, Respondent’s client. We find it particularly troubling that Respondent engaged in misconduct relating to the
Ademiluyi/Solomon matter while the disciplinary proceeding in the Lyles/Simmons matter was in progress, and after having previously been suspended from the practice of law for 30 days in 2014. Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, which demonstrated a pattern of serious misconduct, we conclude that the public will only be sufficiently protected through Respondent’s disbarment.

(MIke Frisch)

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