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Property transfers lead to disbarment

An attorney was disbarred Tuesday for client neglect and failing to keep records, including financial ones, in connection with several real estate transactions.

It was the second disbarment for Perry Allen London. The first was in 1977, but he was reinstated in 1999.

The present action stemmed from a complaint the Attorney Grievance Commission received from Gregory Kane, a Baltimore businessman who hired London to handle several real estate transactions from 2006 to 2009.

In its petition for disciplinary action, the commission said London violated rules of competence, diligence, communication, safekeeping property, declining or terminating representation, misconduct, prohibited transactions and misuse of trust money.

After hearing the case on April 10, the Court of Appeals found Allen neglected the work he was supposed to be doing for Kane, intentionally misled him, failed to keep him informed and failed to maintain proper records of his work and client’s money, all violations of the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct.

“London made his defense more difficult by not being able to produce many of his records and, presumably, not retaining copies of the records that he provided to Bar Counsel,” Judge Sally D. Adkins wrote for the court.

Kane gave London $450 in cash in April 2006 in a pre-payment of attorney fees to assist him in a real property transfer at 813 N. Carey St., according to the opinion. London was supposed to forward a deed to Kane at his company, Friendly Outreach Services Inc., after the title to the property cleared. Though London told the court he prepared a deed, there was no evidence he did so, according to court documents.

A request for comment from Kane at Friendly Outreach Services was not returned. London’s attorney, Howard L. Cardin of Cardin & Gitomer P.A. in Baltimore, also did not return calls for comment.

In December 2007, London “was on notice” that the title had not been transferred to Kane, the opinion said. In June 2008, London wrote the tenant of the property to vacate the premises and then applied for a lien certificate in December 2008. As of April 2010, however, the title to the property was still in the seller’s name, the opinion said.

In another transaction in 2006, Kane and the seller, Marriam Robinson, came to London with a signed option agreement for the sale of property on Classen Avenue in Baltimore. London found out there were outstanding liens and unpaid real property taxes on the property. London wrote to Robinson about the issue, but not to Kane, his client.

London applied for a lien certificate for the property, but there is no documentation of any further activity or communication with Kane. London was paid a flat fee of $500 for this work, court documents said.

In June 2007, another woman transferred title to a property on Mosher Street to Friendly Outreach Services. London prepared the deed, but there is no evidence that it was ever recorded.

According to the findings of the hearing judge in the Baltimore City Circuit Court, there were no files for corporate work London claimed he performed, nor records of a $2,300 check payment in June 2007 or a $1,500 check in November 2007.

The hearing judge found London violated rules of competence, diligence, safekeeping property, misconduct and communication. The Court of Appeals agreed.

Files in storage

Neither side took exception to the hearing judge’s findings of fact; however, London challenged her conclusions of law. He argued that the judge failed to consider his claim that he was not able to produce many of his files because he had moved and they were boxed up in storage.

“If we were to hold that a lawyer’s inability to produce records could prevent findings and conclusions based on clear and convincing evidence, we would allow bad lawyers to insulate themselves from prosecution by hiding, destroying, or simply not keeping records…,” Adkins wrote. “In sum, London has no one to blame but himself for his inability to produce the records that he suggests would have supported his side of the story.”

London further argued he did not fail to communicate with his client, but instead blamed Kane, saying he was often busy and unreachable. He also contended he did not intentionally misinform his client and said he did not record the deed for Carey Street because Kane was “experienced in real estate” and told London he wanted to minimize his legal costs by doing it himself. Kane, however, testified that London had told him he would take care of the deed.

“At the very least, London failed to communicate regarding a material fact of his representation concerning 813 N. Carey Street,” Adkins wrote. “The failure to communicate a material fact with a client, when done in a misleading way, is a violation.”

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission v. Perry Allen London, AG No. 12, September Term 2011. Argued April 10, 2012. Decided July 10, 2012. Opinion by Adkins, J.

Issue:

Did a hearing judge err in ruling that an attorney neglected, misled and failed to inform a client, as well as failing to maintain client records, when the attorney contends he did not have access to his files because he was moving and they were in storage?

Holding:

No; disbarment ordered. If the court were to hold that a lawyer’s inability to produce records could prevent disbarment, it would provide protection for bad lawyers and encourage attorneys to hide, destroy or not keep records.

Counsel:

James P. Botluk, Assistant Bar Counsel for petitioner; Howard L. Cardin of Cardin & Gitomer P.A. for respondent.

RecordFax #12-0710-20 (28 pages).