Calling the Attorney Grievance Commission unjust, a disbarred Maryland lawyer said she will pursue, to the Supreme Court if necessary, her bid to get her license back and collect damages from the assistant bar counsel she alleges lied at each stage of the proceedings.
Hekyong Pak pledged to take her case “as far as it goes” after Judge Richard D. Bennett dismissed her lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
In an unpublished opinion, Bennett said he lacked the authority to reverse the state Court of Appeals’ decision to disbar Pak, and that Assistant Bar Counsel Dolores O. Ridgell has prosecutorial immunity from being sued over statements made in a judicial proceeding.
Bennett’s decision essentially gives bar counsel “immunity from committing fraud,” said Pak, who was disbarred in 2007 for actions she took to protect her parents’ assets after they defaulted on a loan.
“Who is monitoring bar counsel?” Pak said. “Who is making these people accountable? Nobody.”
Parents’ loan guarantees
The Court of Appeals disbarred Pak after finding she had helped her parents hide their assets when a loan company sought to enforce personal guarantees on a loan they had taken out to buy a hotel in Pennsylvania.
Once the hidden assets were discovered, the top court said, Pak made several misrepresentations about the assets and her role in trying to keep them hidden from the loan company.
Pak, who was a Maryland lawyer for nearly 17 years, said her actions were both legal and taken in good faith.
She sued in federal court for reinstatement as well as damages.
However, Bennett said no federal judge could reinstate her without running afoul of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Named for two Supreme Court decisions — Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co. in 1923 and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman 60 years later — the doctrine bans federal courts from overturning a state court judgment even when the complaint alleges the judgment violates a federal constitutional or statutory right.
In seeking damages, she accused Ridgell of fraudulently misrepresenting the source of the grievance.
According to Pak, the complaint came from a collection lawyer for the company holding her parents’ loan.
But at each stage — the peer review panel, the hearing before a circuit court judge and in the Court of Appeals — Ridgell bolstered the argument for disbarment by saying the complaint came from U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz, Pak alleged.
Ridgell was on vacation last week, and Linda Lamone, chair of the Attorney Grievance Commission, did not return a call for comment. Their lawyer, H. Scott Curtis, denied Pak’s accusations.
Curtis said Pak raised the misrepresentation issue and argued it “head on” in the Court of Appeals, which rejected it in ordering her disbarment. Curtis also noted that the commission and its counsel are part of the Maryland Judiciary and thus immune from suit.
“As any organ of the court or agent of the court, they would be entitled to immunity,” added Curtis, counsel for the Office of Courts and Judicial Affairs in the Maryland attorney general’s office.
In his memorandum opinion last week, Bennett said prosecutorial immunity enables bar counsel to advocate for sanctions against wayward attorneys without fear they could be held financially liable to those lawyers.
“[H]arassment by unfounded litigation would cause a deflection of the prosecutor’s energies from his public duties, and the possibility that he would shade his decisions instead of exercising the independence of judgment required by his public trust,” Bennett wrote, quoting from the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in Imbler v. Pachtman.
But Pak said Bennett’s ruling would give bar counsel free rein to pursue attorneys without any oversight of their in-court methods. She noted that she filed a complaint with the grievance commission against Ridgell in June 2010 and received a letter three months later stating that the complaint would not be pursued.
Pak, 49, added she will “absolutely” appeal Bennett’s decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, if necessary, the Supreme Court.
“This is a case for justice, not money,” she added. “This is not something I’m going to stop. I will bang the bars until the end.”
Pak, who represented herself in U.S. District Court, said she will retain an attorney to handle the appeal.
Her troubles with bar counsel began after Business Loan Express LLC prevailed in a lawsuit against her parents in 2004 in federal court in Baltimore.
Judge Motz concluded that Pak had fraudulently conveyed property on her parent’s behalf and set aside the transfers.
Within months, Ridgell sent a letter to Pak informing her that she was under investigation by bar counsel.
On Sept. 7, 2005, Pak appeared before a Peer Review Panel. The panel recommended that charges against Pak be dropped.
The Attorney Grievance Commission, however, rejected that recommendation and filed a disciplinary petition.
The Court of Appeals found Pak had violated professional conduct rules prohibiting misrepresentations before a court, false statements, fraudulent conduct and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. It ordered Pak’s disbarment on Aug. 2, 2007.
“There is no way you’re proven innocent in the Attorney Grievance Commission,” said Pak. “I want people to know what’s going on here.”