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Cutting, pasting signature draws reprimand for attorney

Maryland’s top court has reprimanded an attorney who copied opposing counsel’s signature from a document she had revised, then pasted it on his original version and filed it without her permission.

Dana Andrew Paul had a poor working relationship with the other lawyer, based on a previous experience when they worked for the same firm.

The Attorney Grievance Commission recommended a 90-day suspension for Paul in order to show the seriousness of the misconduct in the case, as well as protect the public.

But the Court of Appeals, in a 4-3 opinion written by Chief Judge Robert Bell, said Paul’s misconduct was not detrimental to his clients; and, while his actions were intentional, Paul believed they were legally authorized.

Judge Sally D. Adkins’ dissent was joined by Judges Lynne A. Battaglia and Mary Ellen Barbera.

Adkins wrote that the majority had “trivialized” Paul’s misconduct, and that whether or not it was intentional, he deceived the court when he filed a forged document. The dissenters would have suspended Paul for the 90 days Bar Counsel recommended.

Last week’s sanction comes more than three years after the court heard argument in the case on Sept. 4, 2008.

Paul was found by the hearing judge, Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Philip T. Caroom, to have violated Maryland Rule of Professional Conduct 3.3, which deals with making a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal, as well as Rule 8.4, for making false entries in the public record.

The case arose out of a real property transaction insured by a title company. Paul’s firm was retained by the title company to represent the homebuyers.

Paul’s clients had purchased the property from a divorced woman. After the sale closed, her ex-husband sued the buyers and others.

The ex-husband’s lawyer was Laura Penn Shanley. In law school, Paul had clerked for a firm in which Shanley was an associate and, in Paul’s words, there was “bad blood” between them.

However, Shanley agreed to dismiss Paul’s clients after he pointed out that the sale had been completed before the suit was filed, and that Shanley’s client had quit-claimed his interest to his ex-wife, the seller.

Shanley asked Paul to prepare a dismissal of all claims against all parties, except for her client’s ex-wife.

Paul prepared the stipulation — but only as to his own clients.

He e-mailed the document to Shanley, who modified it to include the other parties. According to the court’s decision, Paul’s document had a single line of text, while Shanley’s was three pages long.

Paul filed his version of the dismissal, cutting Shanley’s signatures from the documents she signed and using a photocopier to “paste” the signatures on his version. He claimed he did not realize that the documents were different, but the court did not believe him.

Shanley received a copy of the filing and was “upset” that Paul had used her signature without her permission. She took her concerns to Paul’s supervising attorney at the firm where he then worked.

During a conference call, Paul and his supervisor “berated” Shanley, according to the court, saying, “It was not our job to correct your mistake and we’re not going to file a stipulation for the rest of your defendants and we’re not going to pay for the filing fee.”

The supervisor took over representation of the client, and Paul was terminated shortly thereafter.

The circuit court found there were mitigating factors in the case, most notably the character witnesses who testified on Paul’s behalf. One was a name partner in the firm that hired Paul while the disciplinary matter was pending.

He said Paul was a “competent litigator” and his only concerns were Paul’s “aggressiveness and combativeness, which he noticed seemed to be changing.” The other witness was a mentor to young lawyers, who said Paul should “definitely” continue to practice law.

Bell

what the court held

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Dana Andrew Paul, AG No. 51, Sept. Term 2007. Reported. Case argued Sept. 4, 2008. Opinion by, C.J.; dissenting opinion by Adkins, J. Filed Oct. 31, 2011.

Issue:

Is suspension of 90 days the appropriate punishment for an attorney found to have copied and pasted the signature of another attorney on a document without her permission?

Holding:

No; a reprimand under the circumstances is enough punishment to protect the public.

Counsel:

Robert H. B. Cawood for respondent; Marianne J. Lee for petitioner.

RecordFax#11-1031-21 (34 pages)