Missed Deadlines, No Communication Equals Disbarment
Deadlines are a way of life for most professionals, certainly attorneys. The practice of law involves tons of deadlines, many of which are subject to some form of extension, but an attorney must take active steps to either meet each deadline or see to it that the deadline is adjusted. An attorney’s obligation of competency and communication require that counsel meet each deadline and inform her client when something goes wrong. In a recent disciplinary proceeding, an attorney was disbarred for failing to competently represent his client, failing to communicate, and then failing to participate in the disciplinary process.
In late November 2019, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland disbarred Counsel who had represented Clients in a dispute involving a real estate commission. In the underlying case, Counsel filed suit on Clients’ behalf but did not respond to a motion for summary judgment. After filing no opposition, Counsel did not appear at oral argument. Further, Counsel did not oppose a motion for sanctions against Clients. Subsequently, Counsel did not seek reconsideration. Worse still, Counsel did not inform Clients that the case was dismissed with prejudice nor that a motion for sanctions was pending against Clients.
Clients testified that Counsel did not respond to their many requests for information and that Clients visited the courthouse in person to review their file at which point they learned that the case was dismissed and that costs could be imposed against Clients. At that point Clients engaged new counsel and pursued a disciplinary complaint.
The Maryland Court of Appeals disbarred Counsel after concluding that he violated a litany of RPCs, including those governing: Competence, Scope of Representation, Diligence, Communication, Fees, and Declining or Terminating Representation. According to the Court:
“[Counsel] failed to communicate with the client regarding the status of her case, ignored her many attempts to contact him, failed to respond to or oppose motions for summary judgment filed by the defendants in the case, failed to appear on behalf of his client at two hearings, failed to inform the client that her case was dismissed, failed to inform her that the defendants were seeking punitive sanctions, and failed to participate in the attorney grievance proceeding.”
These facts are unusual. While it is possible (although avoidable) to miss a deadline, it is not common for counsel to clearly abandon the client and then fail to participate in any corrective measures let alone the disciplinary process. Perhaps Counsel suffered from a dependency or mental health issue. Perhaps there were other issues that could have reduced the penalty if Counsel had advocated on his behalf. In any case, this matter serves as a somewhat extreme example of the ramifications for failing to comply with the RPCs. Moreover, this serves as a reminder to be mindful of adversaries, colleagues or co-counsel who may be suffering or those who have somehow become disassociated with the practice of law and, when necessary, it may be our obligation to take action on his or her behalf.