Monday, January 30, 2023

Kramer V. Not Kramer

An interesting argument scheduled for this Thursday at 10 am before the Maryland Supreme Court

AG No. 42 (2021 T.) Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Marylin Pierre
Justice Battaglia (Retired Justice, Specially Assigned) will sit in place of Justice Gould.

Attorney for Petitioner: Lydia E. Lawless
Attorney for Respondent: Irwin R. Kramer

The Washington Post reported on the charges

The 22-page “Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action,” which accuses Pierre of misstatements going back to 1999 and could cost Pierre her law license, shows that the controversy over her candidacy remains. She appears to be gearing up for another run for judge, according to her campaign Facebook page and website. It would again play out amid the complicated way Maryland chooses judges that involves a mix of local vetting committees, governor appointments and what amounts to voter-approval elections that can include candidates who weren’t nominated but want to be judges.

Pierre declined to comment on the allegations.

But Irwin Kramer, a Maryland attorney who has represented lawyers in disciplinary cases for more than 25 years, said the state’s highest court has previously declined to penalize judicial candidates for statements made during campaigns that would be accepted in other political races. This should hold true even for exaggerations or relatively minor misstatements, Kramer said.

“The court has long held that this is core political speech and should be subject to the highest protections of the First Amendment,” Kramer said.

Pierre, who for years has unsuccessfully sought judgeships, said that attacks on her were part of the legal establishment’s desire to keep outsiders off courtroom benches.

“Every time they say I am not qualified,” she said last year, according to a video posted on her campaign Facebook page, “what they’re actually saying is that they are the ones who are the gatekeepers, and they do not want me to get past the gate. . . . So I am hoping that the voters will see how important this race really is and allow me in.”

Many of them tried — with an initial outcome that rattled Montgomery County’s legal community that revolves around two courthouses in Rockville. In total, there are approximately 36 judges.
In the 2020 primary, there were four open slots for Circuit Court judges. Six people ran — four incumbent judges who had earlier been appointed and two outsiders, including Pierre. She finished high enough to make the general election, which was trimmed down to five choices for the four slots.

The four incumbent judges — or “sitting judges” — banded together as a slate, stressing how they had been vetted through the traditional nominating process. In the general election, on Nov. 3, 2020, they captured the most votes, besting Pierre, who remained a lawyer

Her campaign had been built in part on touting her courtroom experience and criticizing the incumbent judges for not appreciating how inherently unfair the system can be
But according to the Bar Counsel and the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland — which regulates lawyers in Maryland — Pierre and her campaign took things way too far. Citing professional rules of conduct, the Bar Counsel wrote: “An attorney shall not make a statement that the attorney knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualification or integrity of a judge, adjudicatory officer or public legal officer, or of a candidate for election or appointment to judicial or legal office.”
The Pierre campaign’s view on the incumbent judges and diversity constituted one such violation, according to the counsel’s petition.

“The Respondent’s statements that ‘[m]ost of [the sitting judges] have worked at the same law firm, go to the same church, and are related by marriage’ were knowingly and intentionally false or made with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity and impugned the integrity of the sitting judges,” it said.

The Bar Counsel said in its petition that during the campaign, Pierre exaggerated her legal and courtroom experience, including claims that she “represented clients in hundreds of ­cases in state and federal trial and appellant courts” and that “some of my cases have established precedents in the State of Maryland and are regularly cited by courts in others states.”
In fact, the Bar Counsel alleged, Pierre “never represented any client in any federal appellate court and never represented a client in any Maryland appellant court resulting in a reported opinion.”

The counsel’s petition also accused Pierre of “knowingly and intentionally” misrepresenting statements made by incumbent Judge Bibi Berry at a virtual forum hosted by AfriqueToday when Berry was asked about the high incarceration rates for Black men in Maryland.

“What we do is, there are a lot of correctional options other than incarceration,” Berry said. “We’re not incarcerating people who are nonviolent offenders for long periods of time or anything like that. There is home detention, there’s inpatient residential treatment, there’s problem-solving courts, there’s work release or weekend incarceration. There are a lot of things you can do. So, we’re not — certainly, I understand that it is an issue — but it’s not as much of an issue as being portrayed by the other two candidates [Pierre and the other outside challenger, Thomas Johnson].”
The next day, according to the Bar Counsel, Pierre’s campaign sent a text message to Montgomery County voters that read:

“Hi [voter], this election matters. When a sitting judge says ‘it’s not much of an issue’ that Black males are jailed at a higher rate in MD it’s clear we need Marylin Pierre, who understands restorative justice. Can we count on your support?”

The Bar Counsel complaint addresses matters beyond the recent election. It accuses Pierre of knowingly making false statements on her New York state bar application in 1999 and knowingly failing to disclose information on Maryland judicial applications from 2013 to 2017.

According to published Bar Counsel rules, after allegations are filed in the Court of Appeals, which is the state’s highest court, the court assigns the case to a local judge for a fact-finding hearing. The matter is then transmitted back to the Court of Appeals, and it decides on any punishment.

Kramer, the attorney who often represents lawyers who are subjects of disciplinary cases, said allegations related to Pierre’s campaign statements would deter outsiders from challenging for judge slots.
“If a judicial candidate’s statements made during a political forum can cost attorneys their law license, no one in their right mind would ever challenge an incumbent judge,” Kramer said.
(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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