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Top stories of the year online

What drew the most interest on The Daily Record in 2013? Here are the top 10 staff stories, based on page views as measured by Google Analytics, along with the 10 runners-up.

1. AGC: Hodes took from late client

Posted: Oct. 31

Reporter: Kristi Tousignant

Attorney Michael C. Hodes allegedly took more than $270,000 from a deceased client’s trust account for his personal use when he was supposed to establish a charity with it, according to a petition filed by the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland.

His law firm filed the Attorney Grievance Commission complaint four days after learning of the transactions. As part of Hodes’ separation agreement with the firm, he was required to repay $270,000 to the trust, according to the AGC’s petition.

An attorney representing him said Hodes was following the wishes of his client.

“Michael Hodes is a very accomplished lawyer,” said the attorney, Andrew Jay Graham of Kramon & Graham P.A. in Baltimore. “He has been for 38 years. He has no history of disciplinary issues. He’s a great lawyer, and he was representing his client in the way she wanted him to represent her.”

2. Law firm partner accused of sex offense

Posted: Dec. 17

Reporter: Danny Jacobs

A Baltimore lawyer has been charged with second-degree assault and a fourth-degree sex offense for allegedly inappropriately touching a member of the catering staff at his law firm’s holiday party.

Isaac M. Neuberger “categorically denies the charges,” his attorney said Tuesday.

“There was no assault,” said Neuberger’s attorney, Joshua R. Treem. “There were no offenses committed.”

A hearing on the misdemeanor charges is scheduled for Jan. 24 in Maryland District Court, according to court records.

3. Police owe $500K to teen left miles from home

Posted: Jan. 25

Reporter: Barbara Grzincic

A jury has awarded $500,000 to a teenager who entered a police van near his home in West Baltimore and was dropped off hours later near Patapsco Valley State Park in Howard County without his shoes, cellphone or any way of getting home.

The civil trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court followed the city’s refusal to honor a $150,000 settlement its law department had reached with the family of Michael Johnson Jr., who claimed he was forced into the van by three police officers.

Johnson was 15 when he entered the van on May 4, 2009, in what the officers have maintained was a voluntary encounter.

“We still have a battle with the city,” said A. Dwight Pettit, co-counsel on the case tried by Allan B. Rabineau. “We will do whatever we have to do to enforce the judgment.”

UPDATE: On post-trial motions in May, the circuit court granted the defense a new trial on damages only, unless the family agreed to a remittitur of $165,000. The defense appealed. The case is pending in the Court of Special Appeals.

4. O’Malley appoints Barbera as chief judge of Court of Appeals

Posted: July 2

Reporter: Staff and wire

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera (File photo)

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley has appointed Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Mary Ellen Barbera to be the first female chief judge of the state’s highest court and also elevated Judge Shirley Watts from the Court of Special Appeals to the top court.

“Together, these decisions give the Maryland Court of Appeals its first ever female majority, first female Chief Judge and first African American female judge,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

Barbera, 61, was elevated to the Court of Appeals in August 2008 after more than six years on the Court of Special Appeals. Before that, she was legal counsel to then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who appointed her to the intermediate court. She also served as deputy chief of the criminal affairs division in the Office of the Maryland Attorney General, after serving as assistant attorney general from 1985 to 1989.

Watts was appointed an associate judge of the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland in January 2011, after nine years as an associate judge for the Baltimore City Circuit Court. She has also been the chief administrative law judge for the Social Security Administration’s Baltimore Office of Hearings and Appeals, a private practitioner, a prosecutor and a federal public defender.

5. Five apply to replace Bell on Court of Appeals

Posted: May 2

Reporter: Steve Lash

M. Natalie McSherry was the only non-judge among five applicants for the seat Chief Judge Robert M. Bell will leave vacant when he hits the mandatory retirement age of 70 on July 6. The other four are intermediate Court of Special Appeals judges Stuart R. Berger, Albert J. Matricciani Jr. and Shirley M. Watts; and Baltimore City Circuit Judge W. Michel Pierson.

Attorney Ralph S. Tyler, a close confidante of O’Malley and a partner at Venable LLP in Baltimore, surprised many by not applying for the Court of Appeals judgeship.

“I’m very happy doing what I’m doing,” said Tyler.

6. Contributory negligence standard survives challenge in top court

Posted: July 9

Reporter: Barbara Grzincic

Long before the Civil War, the high court of Maryland instituted the doctrine of contributory negligence. On Tuesday, in its first look at the issue in 30 years, the Court of Appeals voted 5-2 not to change the common-law doctrine, citing the 166-year-old precedent as well as numerous failed attempts by the General Assembly to change the rule in recent years, as all but a handful of other jurisdictions have moved to a comparative fault standard.

The decision is a loss for James Coleman, who sued the Soccer Association of Columbia after a metal goal collapsed when he playfully grabbed the crossbar three years ago at Lime Kiln Middle School Middle School in Fulton.

In October 2011, a Howard County Circuit Court jury found the association was negligent for failing to maintain the goal. But the jury declined to award damages because it found that Coleman, too, was negligent.

The top court took the case and heard argument in September 2012.

Daily Record reporter Steve Lash contributed to this article.

7. Judge sues judge for $700K

Posted: Nov. 3

Reporter: Danny Jacobs

One former Baltimore judge is suing another for $700,000 over a case that was decided more than seven years ago.

Kenneth Lavon Johnson alleges Clifton J. Gordy should not have heard Johnson’s lawsuit against a real estate firm in 2006 because Gordy had a longstanding grudge against Johnson.

According to Johnson, the grudge stems from his representation of Gordy’s ex-wife in the couple’s divorce proceedings before Johnson joined the bench in 1982.

The lawsuit alleges judicial malpractice, abuse of process and fraud.

Johnson’s underlying lawsuit, filed in 2005, alleged a real estate firm sold his undeveloped land in Western Maryland for well below market value even as the firm knew the existence of higher land values nearby. Gordy ruled that the defense was entitled to judgment. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed.

8. Attorney disbarred following affair with client

Posted: July 10

Reporter: Steve Lash

Maryland’s top court disbarred an attorney, by a vote of 5-2, for having an intimate relationship with her client in a divorce and child custody proceeding, having a financial interest in his child-support obligation, communicating directly with the opposing party and lying to bar counsel.

Gina M. O’Leary’s affair with client W. Joseph Cosgrove, which led to the other violations of Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct, was unethical as it gave his estranged wife ammunition in her ultimately successful efforts to secure child custody, the Court of Appeals ruled.

9. O’Malley upsets some with gun bill email

Posted: Feb. 8

Reporter: Alexander Pyles

Gov. Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O’Malley talks to reporters about his proposed gun control legislation as Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown looks on. (The Daily Record / Josh Cooper)

Gov. Martin O’Malley has rankled some Maryland gun owners by using a state agency email address and a database of hunters’ contact information to explain components of his gun control legislation.

In an email to hunters who registered their addresses with the Department of Natural Resources’ Compass Online Licensing and Registration System, O’Malley tells hunters that while many guns would require a license to own under his bill, hunting rifles aren’t included on that list.

Legal experts agree that O’Malley had the right to use the agency email address and database to explain his legislation. But Allan Ellis, owner of Ellis Outdoors LLC, said O’Malley had “no business” using DNR to contact hunters.

“We are told when we purchase our hunting or fishing license that our information will not be used. Obviously, our information has been used by a governor to promote his anti-gun legislation to gun owners. … To me, it is the absolute worst type of pandering I can imagine.”

10. Bar exam passage rates up

Posted: Nov. 15

Reporter: Kristi Tousignant

The number of law school students passing July’s bar exam in Maryland jumped 5 percent this year.

About 78 percent of those who took July’s exam in the state passed, compared to 76 percent last year, according to statistics from the State Board of Law Examiners.

The spike is the highest passage rate in state in the past five years.

The passage rate for first-time test-takers, 83 percent, is up 2 percent from last year.

For the second year running, the University of Baltimore School of Law’s passage rate outpaced that of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, even though UM Carey is considered the more prestigious school. (U.S. News & World Report ranked UM Carey 41st in its 2013 ranking of law schools, while UB Law came in at 134.)

At UB Law, 83 percent passed this July’s exam, an uptick of 1 percent from last year. At UM Carey, the July passage rate of 79.6 percent fell below the state average, but was significantly higher than its 75 percent passage rate in 2012. The school’s bar passage rate hovered around 85 percent from 2010 to 2011.

Honorable mentions

11. Wal-Mart judged liable in accident from blown tire that killed 3 in car

Posted: Feb. 11

12. Baltimore attorney who represented White House gatecrashers disbarred

Posted: Jan. 27

13. Former Block dancer files federal wage suit

Posted: Feb. 8

14. Lawyer disbarred, another suspended after lengthy waits

Posted: Aug. 19

15. Fired MSBA worker arrested

Posted: May 19

Update: Ex-MSBA employee pleads guilty to $265K theft, posted Dec. 12

16. Top court rejects punitive damages, orders new trials for Exxon leak

Posted: Feb. 26

17. Jury: Seacrets not liable for rape

Posted: Jan. 28

18. Lawyer disbarred for illegal drug use, misappropriation

Posted: June 26

19. Charles Village site to be developed for mixed use

Posted: Feb. 8

20. Lawsuit likely against Hopkins following accused doctor’s suicide

Posted: Feb. 19

Update: Nikita Levy case to be mandatory class action, posted Nov. 1

 

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