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Two lawyers suspended in separate cases

The Court of Appeals indefinitely suspended a lawyer for, among other things, practicing law without first getting his license reinstated after an earlier suspension.

In a second case, the court issued a 60-day suspension to a lawyer who has previously been reprimanded twice and suspended once.

The suspensions of Louis P. Tanko and Anthony I. Butler Jr. were the last of eight sanctions the court imposed in attorney grievance cases in May, after five disbarments and one reprimand by consent.

Indefinite suspension

Tanko was suspended indefinitely stemming from a pair of client complaints. In one case, he represented a prisoner in a federal habeas corpus case, and the other was an employment law action. Bar Counsel accused him of violating rules pertaining to competent representation, conflict of interest and misconduct.

Tanko, who was admitted to the state bar in 1989, was suspended for a 60-day period in April 2009. He was suspended for attempting to “slip by” expungement petitions for an ineligible client. Tanko had represented the two clients who complained to the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission before he was reinstated.

In an opinion filed May 23, Judge Mary Ellen Barbera wrote that Tanko had testified he did not know he needed to file a petition for reinstatement before he could start representing clients.

“Instead, he relied upon what he learned through consultation with other attorneys, the erroneous issuance by the Maryland State Bar Association (“MSBA”) of an identification card; and the indication on the Client Protection Fund website that he was ‘in good standing,’” Barbera wrote.

As a mitigating factor, though, the hearing judge and the appellate court noted that Tanko withdrew from cases and sent letters to clients when he learned he was not authorized to practice law.

But, while the court found his actions were “not infected with dishonesty, deceit or fraud,” they did speak to his knowledge of the law.

“That he practiced without authorization because he ignorantly believed he had no affirmative obligation to seek reinstatement certainly reflects negatively on his fitness as a lawyer,” Barbera wrote.

The reported opinion is available on the court’s website or as RecordFax #12-0523-21, 44 pages.

60-day suspension

The high court ordered the 60-day suspension to Butler on May 21. Butler had failed to show up for a scheduled court date, which led to a default judgment against his client.

The Attorney Grievance Commission had sought a 90-day suspension, Judge Robert N. McDonald wrote for the majority.

“This will be the fourth time that Mr. Butler has been sanctioned in his relatively brief career,” McDonald wrote. “He has previously received two reprimands and a 30-day suspension; in each case the sanctions resulted in part from lack of diligence and a failure to communicate adequately with his clients.”

Butler, who was representing a towing company in a motor tort suit, missed one hearing when he was scheduled to appear in separate cases in Baltimore City Circuit Court and Baltimore County Circuit Court on the same day. He missed the rescheduled hearing because he was attending an American Bar Association conference in Florida. The case was not postponed again, and a default judgment was entered against his client.

In a dissenting opinion, Judges Glenn T. Harrell Jr. and Lynne A. Battaglia said a 90-day suspension was more appropriate.

“In short, I have my doubts that any incentive to mend one’s ways and avoid the next ‘occasion of sin’ (with a predictably greater penance) is sufficient at the level the Majority selects,” Harrell wrote.

Butler, who was admitted to the state bar in 2003, said on Friday he had no comment other than that he would abide by the ruling.

“I’m planning on doing what I need to do to comply with the order,” Butler said.

The reported opinion is available on the court’s website or as RecordFax #12-0521-20, 20 pages.

Six other cases

In addition to suspending Tanko and Butler, the court ordered five disbarments and one reprimand in six other cases in May:

-Christopher M. Uhl was disbarred immediately effective May 18. The court indicated an explanation would be forthcoming.

-Denese Dominguez was disbarred immediately effective May 8. The court said an explanation would follow.

-David Agatstein was disbarred by joint petition effective May 9.

-Charlene S. Hardnett was reprimanded by consent on May 9. The court cited a violation of Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 5.3 “Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants.”

-Jesse H. Ingram was disbarred by joint petition effective May 9.

-Bruce Goodman was disbarred effective May 1 after the Prince George’s County-based solo failed to pay two clients’ medical bills from settlement proceeds, did not maintain a client trust account or financial records, and deposited client funds into his own account.

In short, I have my doubts that any incentive to mend one’s ways and avoid the next ‘occasion of sin’ (with a predictably greater penance) is sufficient at the level the Majority selects.

Judge Glenn Harrell Jr., dissenting

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission v. Louis P. Tanko, Jr., Misc. AG No. 70, September Term 2010. Argued Feb. 7, 2012. Decided May 23, 2012. Opinion by Barbera, J. Reported.

Issue:

What is the appropriate sanction for an attorney who failed to seek reinstatement before engaging in the practice of law, based on a mistaken belief that he was already a member in good standing of the bar?

Holding:

While the respondent’s conduct was not infected with dishonesty, deceit or fraud, his lack of knowledge of the law reflected badly on his fitness to practice, which, given the other circumstances in the case, warranted an indefinite suspension.

Counsel:

James N. Gaither, assistant bar counsel, for petitioner; respondent pro se.

RecordFax 12-0523-21, 44 pages

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission v. Anthony Ignatius Butler Jr., September Term 2011, Misc. Docket AG No. 14. Argued March 6, 2012. Decided May 21, 2012. Opinion by McDonald, J. Reported.

Issue:

What is the appropriate sanction when an attorney fails to appear for a scheduled trial date in the District Court without good reason and without adequate communication with his client, with the result that a default judgment is entered against the client?

Holding:

Given the respondent’s history of two prior reprimands and a 30-day suspension, the court ordered a 60-day suspension from the practice of law.

Counsel:

James N. Gaither, assistant bar counsel, for petitioner; respondent pro se.

RecordFax 12-0521-20, 20 pages

 

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