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Lawyer sanctioned for unauthorized practice of law while suspended

The Maryland Court of Appeals on Wednesday disciplined an already-suspended Baltimore lawyer for providing legal services to an immigrant during his application and interviewing process for permanent residency in the United States. The sanction came two days after Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced a crackdown on immigration consulting fraud.

In a case brought by the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission, the court found that Brenda C. Brisbon engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by accepting money for immigration consulting in 2008, even though her license to practice law had been suspended three years earlier.

The court noted that disbarment is the ordinary sanction for unauthorized practice while suspended. But it gave Brisbon, who is from Africa and in poor health, a reprieve.

“In light of Respondent’s failing health and intent to return to her homeland, the continuation of an indefinite suspension is the appropriate sanction in the case at bar,” retired Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. wrote for the court.

A phone call to Brisbon’s office, listed in the court’s opinion as 228 E. 25th St., yielded a recording that said the number had been disconnected.

Brisbon was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1977 but was suspended indefinitely in 2005 after inadequately representing Oretha Tenezee Bailey, a Liberian immigrant who had come to Brisbon for help in applying for asylum three years earlier.

In the 2005 suspension, the Court of Appeals said Brisbon’s failure to close or refile Bailey’s asylum application as instructed by a judge had subjected Bailey to deportation “at possible risk to the client’s safety.”

In Wednesday’s opinion, the court found that Brisbon had continued to hold herself out as a practicing immigration lawyer after her suspension, using “Law Office of Brenda C. Brisbon, P.A.” as the heading on an initial consultation form, as well as a receipt for payment and a fax sheet.

The court found that Brisbon accepted payment from Kobina Nkrumah in 2008 to help him file paperwork with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Nkrumah wanted his new wife, an American citizen, to sponsor him for status as a permanent resident. Brisbon agreed to appear at a USCIS interview with the newlyweds, which in retrospect, she testified, was a “huge mistake.”

The court’s decision stated Brisbon’s characterization of the incident as a mistake was meant “to disguise the Respondent’s decision to attend the interview, knowing that, as a suspended attorney, she was not authorized to attend.”

On Monday, Gansler announced a crackdown on people misrepresenting themselves as immigration lawyers in a bilingual address at the CASA de Maryland multicultural center in Langley Park.

His speech focused on some consultants who describe themselves as “notarios,” which in Central American countries signifies a lawyer who is qualified to assist in immigration matters. In the U.S., however, it only signifies a notary public.

“So what they do is they come in, they hold themselves out as ‘notarios,’ people will come in and give them money and then they won’t perform services — they’ll basically steal that money,” Gansler said in his address. “So it’s a fraud and they’re taking money from people who don’t have a lot of money and oftentimes from people who are afraid to go to the police.”

Brisbon’s case is different in that she traded on her former status as a lawyer rather than misusing the term “notario.”

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Brenda Carol Brisbon, CA Misc. Docket AG No. 28, Sept. Term 2010. Reported. Argued Sept. 8, 2011. Opinion by Murphy, J. Filed Oct. 26, 2011.

Issue:

What is the appropriate sanction for the unauthorized practice of law by respondent, who was already suspended from the practice of law?

Holding:

Respondent’s indefinite suspension shall continue. Disbarment is not necessary because she is in failing health and intends to return to her homeland.

Counsel:

Glenn M. Grossman and Gail D. Kessler of Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland for plaintiff; Justin C. Brown, solo practitioner, for respondent.

RecordFax # 11-1026-23.