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Court of Appeals disbars three attorneys in one week

Maryland’s top court unanimously ordered the disbarment of three attorneys in separate decisions last week, including one who had listed a UPS mailbox as his law office.

The Court of Appeals said Joel D. Joseph engaged in dishonesty when he posed as a Maryland resident to secure pro hac vice admissions in the courts of California, where he actually resided. The Maryland address Joseph gave court personnel — 4938 Hampden Lane Suite 118, Bethesda, Md. — was a UPS store.

The high court stripped Peter R. Maignan of his license for practicing law while on suspension. Maignan had received an $8,000 fee for representing a civil defendant.

The court disbarred Alexander N. Agiliga for intentionally misappropriating client funds by putting them into his own account and then spending them. Agiliga had been suspended twice by the court, once for having failed to report on his pro bono services and later for failing to pay his assessment from the Client Security Trust Fund.

Moved west

In March 2007, Joseph called Robert Moss’ law office in Santa Monica, Calif., seeking an attorney to sponsor his pro hac vice admission and serve as co-counsel in California court cases. But Joseph had moved from Maryland to California two months earlier; as a resident he was barred by the state’s rules from taking a case pro hac vice, or limited, basis.

Nevertheless, he told Moss’ assistant, Suzanne Brewer, he lived in Bethesda.

Moss sponsored Joseph and served as co-counsel in two Los Angeles cases, one in federal court, the other in state court. In both courts, Joseph vouched to being a Maryland resident.

His dishonesty came to light after Brewer called Maryland’s Client Protection Fund to verify Joseph’s status. The person from the fund confirmed Joseph was a bar member and asked Brewer to verify Joseph’s home address on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.

Brewer wondered why someone claiming to live and practice in Maryland would have dues notices sent to California. She asked Joseph about the Hampden Lane address.

Joseph responded it was an apartment with a home office. That lie led to the loss of his license.

Joseph “chose to describe his rented UPS mailbox as either an apartment or a suite or both to Mr. Moss and Ms. Brewer and on declarations filed with the California courts, signed under the penalties of perjury,” Judge Clayton Greene Jr. wrote for the Court of Appeals. “[I]f respondent had believed that renting a UPS mailbox made him a resident of Maryland, he would not have needed to make those representations.”


‘Repeated admonishments’

On Jan. 29, 2007, Maignon was on indefinite suspension in Maryland for a trust account violation when he signed an $8,000 fee agreement with Jeffrey Smith, a defendant in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Maignon drafted Smith’s answer and other responsive pleadings in the case but styled the documents as being pro se, signed Smith’s name and filed them in the federal court, according to the Court of Appeals opinion.

The high court concluded Maignon violated rules prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law and collecting unreasonable fees.

“An attorney’s suspension from the practice of law renders a legal fee paid by a client unreasonable,” Judge Lynne A. Battaglia wrote for the court. “When a member of the legal profession consistently violates the Rules of Professional Conduct and continues to disregard repeated admonishments in derogation of the trust and confidence of the public, disbarment is the only remedy.”

Spending commingled funds

In the third disbarment case, Agiliga converted to personal use the settlement funds he owed to chiropractic clinics in four personal-injury cases he litigated, the Court of Appeals said, adding his conduct violated of professional rules regarding competence, diligence and the safe keeping of property.

“The respondent’s conduct in commingling client funds with his own funds was clearly willful and intentional and was not negligent,” Greene wrote for the court. “Although he urges as justification for his conduct the fact that his landlord locked him out of his office for a period of time, the circumstance in itself in no way justified placing entrusted monies into his operating account and spending them.”

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission v. Joseph, CA AG No. 11 Sept. Term 2010. Reported. Opinion by Greene, J. Argued Aug. 31, 2011. Filed Oct. 27, 2011.

Issue:

Is disbarment the appropriate sanction for a Maryland lawyer who claimed a Bethesda UPS store as his address while seeking pro hac vice status in California, his true state of residence?

Holding:

Yes; the misrepresentation warrants disbarment.

Counsel:

Dolores O. Ridgell for petitioner; Joel D. Joseph for respondent.

RecordFax # 11-1027-20 (39 pages).

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission v. Maignan, CA AG No. 23 Sept. Term 2010. Reported. Opinion by Battaglia, J. Argued Sept. 1, 2011. Filed Oct. 28, 2011.

Issue:

Is disbarment the appropriate sanction for a lawyer who provides legal advice and files court papers for a fee while suspended from the practice of law?

Holding:

Yes; the unauthorized practice of law and collection of an unreasonable fee warrant disbarment.

Counsel:

Glenn M. Grossman for petitioner; Peter R. Maignan for respondent.

RecordFax # 11-1028-22 (15 pages).

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission v. Agiliga, CA AG No. 21 Sept. Term 2010. Reported. Opinion by Greene, J. Argued Oct. 11, 2011. Filed Oct. 26, 2011.

Issue:

Is disbarment the appropriate sanction for a lawyer who intentionally misappropriates client funds?

Holding:

Yes; the intentional misappropriation of client funds warrants disbarment.

Counsel:

James P. Botluk for petitioner; Alexander N. Agiliga for respondent.

RecordFax # 11-1026-22 (15 pages).