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Refusal to Cooperate Draws Reprimand

Charles Bridges, an attorney who alleged that an investigation by the Attorney Grievance Commission was defamatory, racially motivated and violated his civil rights, was reprimanded by the Court of Appeals yesterday for refusing to cooperate with the commission’s bar counsel.“It is evident from the record that [Bridges] refused to provide requested information, concealed his whereabouts from the AGC after he moved … and did not appear for evidentiary hearings conducted by the Inquiry Panel,” wrote Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. for the split court. “Based on our view of [Bridges’] improper behavior, we agree with the hearing judge that [Bridges] ‘engage[d] in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice,’” Harrell continued, adding “we deem it appropriate to issue to [Bridges] a reprimand.”Judges Irma S. Raker and Lawrence F. Rodowsky agreed that Bridges violated Maryland Rules, but dissented on the appropriate sanction. “I would impose a suspension for ten days,” Raker wrote. “[Bridges’] conduct in this case was egregious and should be considered an aggravating factor in imposing a sanction.”Bridges now serves as an administrative law judge in Mississippi, yesterday’s opinion noted. But five years ago, in August 1995, the AGC began investigating him after it received a complaint from Kaibeh Johnson.Johnson alleged that she paid an “attorney” named Albert Carter more than $1,200 for legal services never performed. “Carter has never been admitted to the Maryland Bar,” Harrell noted.AGC investigator Marc O. Fiedler was assigned to the case. Johnson provided him with a copy of a letter written on Bridges’ letterhead stating, in part, that Carter “was employed in this law office as Independent Paralegal/Assistant Appellate Counsel durning [sic] January 10, 1987 to Present.”“Under the signature line it says ‘Charles Bridges’ and under that ‘Attorney at Law,’” the opinion said. “The name ‘Charles Bridges’ is written above the signature line.”Fiedler interviewed Carter, who said he provided “certain services to Johnson and indicated that he had assisted Johnson with preparation of an immigration application,” Harrell wrote. “Carter promised to provide further information but he failed to keep a subsequent appointment and provided no further information to Fiedler.”Bridges denied any contact with Johnson and “any knowledge of legal services or matters performed by Carter for Johnson,” Harrell continued. “Bridges refused to produce documents concerning the amounts of money that he had paid to Carter for his services over the years.”On June 28, 1996, the AGC received a letter from Bridges denying the allegations in the Johnson complaint and any involvement with Carter in the matter. “Bridges challenged the jurisdiction of the AGC and complained that its actions against him were motivated by ‘a racial animus since it [was] unsupported by any evidence relating to the issues,’” Harrell wrote. However, Bridges failed “to provide any factual basis or evidence supporting these allegations … therefore we decline to address them,” Harrell added in a footnote.Federal practice firstDuring the course of the Carter investigation, Bridges admitted that he had maintained a law office in his Baltimore residence prior to June 1995, when he became a member of the Maryland bar. Prior to that, he was admitted to practice in several states and the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. He said he had handled federal matters for “fewer than five clients in each year” between 1993 and his admission in 1995.After Bridges failed to appear at two hearings, a hearing judge in May 1997 concluded that he had violated Maryland Rules concerning the unauthorized practice of law, misrepresentation as an authorized practitioner, bar admission, and disciplinary matters and misconduct.Bridges filed exceptions to the hearing judge’s findings as well as a challenge to the Court of Appeals jurisdiction over the matter. His attorney, Curtis S. Anderson, did not return a phone call seeking comment.The top court rejected Bridges’ jurisdictional challenge, but agreed that he did not engage in the unauthorized practice of law prior to his admission to the Maryland Bar in 1995 by conducting a federal practice from his Maryland home.“[T]here is not clear and convincing evidence that [Bridges] held himself out as an attorney practicing law in Maryland within the proscription of the Md. Code or our rules of conduct for attorneys,” Harrell wrote. “[Bridges] did not maintain a regular Maryland office for the practice of law, advertise in any capacity, distribute business cards stating a Maryland street address, hang a shingle outside of his home, or create letterhead with a Maryland address where he could be found,” Harrell concluded.

WHAT THE COURT HELDCase: AGC v. Charles Bridges, CA Misc. Docket AG No. 83, Sept. Term 1997. Reported. Opinion by Harrell, J. Dissent by Rodowsky and Raker, JJ. Filed Sept. 12, 2000.Issue: What is the proper sanction for an attorney who refused to provide requested information, concealed his whereabouts from the AGC and failed to appear for two evidentiary hearings during the investigation of a complaint?Holding: Refusal to cooperate with Bar Counsel during the investigation of a complaint constitutes a violation of Maryland Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(d). A reprimand is the appropriate sanction.Counsel: Melvin Hirshman of the AGC for petitioner; Curtis Anderson for respondent.RecordFax #0-0912-21 (33 pages)