Top 5: ‘There are no easy fixes’

News out of the state appellate courts dominates the most-read legal affairs stories of the week. The Court of Appeals disabarred one lawyer, threw out attorneys’ fees for another and heard an appeal by the former state public defender. The Court of Special Appeals also was asked to vacate its decision overturning much of Jacksonville residents’ $150 million judgment against Exxon Mobil.

Here are the Top 5 stories:

1. Top court disbars Hunt Valley attorney, scolds her counsel — by Ben Mook

In disbarring a Hunt Valley lawyer, the state’s highest court added a written admonishment to the woman and her counsel for an “unprecedented lack of common respect and decency” during the proceedings.

The Court of Appeals last week disbarred Michele L. Payer, a bankruptcy attorney, for numerous violations of the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct. Among the more than 80 violations alleged in the Attorney Grievance Commission’s petition were failing to provide competent representation, commingling funds, and providing altered bank records to Bar Counsel during its investigation of complaints filed by two dissatisfied clients.

2. Court of Special Appeals asked to vacate opinion on Exxon Mobil damages — by Danny Jacobs

The Court of Special Appeals should vacate its decision striking down a significant portion of the $150 million in damages awarded to 88 Jacksonville households from Exxon Mobil Corp., according to a motion filed by the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The reason, according to a motion for reconsideration filed Monday in the Court of Special Appeals, is because of much smaller numbers: The appellate panel failed to reach a seven-judge majority on several issues as required by state law for cases heard by the entire court.

3. Court of Appeals throws out attorneys’ fee award — by Steve Lash

Maryland’s top court Monday threw out a $30,000 attorneys’ fee award to a father who defeated a mother’s claim in a child-custody case that he had sexually abused their daughter.

The Court of Appeals said a Wicomico County judge, in assessing fees in the custody case, had placed too much emphasis on the fact Michael A. Petito Jr. had paid more than $70,000 for private counsel in his successful defense while his ex-wife, Joanna Davis, was represented at no charge by a legal services agency in bringing the claim.

4. Court of Appeals hears Forster’s wrongful-termination suit — by Steve Lash

An attorney for fired Maryland Public Defender Nancy S. Forster urged the state’s top court Thursday to let her proceed with her $1 million wrongful-termination lawsuit against the state.

Andrew M. Dansicker told the Court of Appeals that a Baltimore trial judge erred in dismissing Forster’s claim that she was fired on Aug. 21, 2009, for refusing to implement illegal orders from the three-member board of trustees that presided over the public defender’s office.

5. Court of Appeals reinstates $200K award — by Steve Lash

Maryland’s top court has reinstated a $200,000 damages award to a woman who was roused from her bed and assaulted by Prince George’s County deputy sheriffs executing an arrest warrant.

In its 7-0 decision, the Court of Appeals said Kimberly Jones provided sufficient evidence at trial that the state had negligently trained the deputies regarding the limits of their constitutional authority under an arrest warrant.

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