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Sanctions delayed: Top court holds on to AGC cases

Of the 11 per curiam opinions issued by the Court of Appeals since June 22, seven were disbarments. In three of those cases, the lawyers were still able to practice while they waited for the court to decide their cases:

* The court took two years and a month to disbar Heung Sik Park, of Baltimore, on June 25 with an unsigned opinion for failing to communicate with and return unpaid fees to clients. The court heard arguments on May 10, 2010.

* Katrice Selena Stinson, of Washington, was disbarred Aug. 21 for charging clients an improper engagement fee resulting from her refusal to refund clients any portion of their payments. The court heard arguments Nov. 5, 2010, more than a year and half before the unsigned decision.

* The court disbarred Ranji M. Garrett, of Rockville, on June 25 for failing to communicate with and return unpaid fees to clients. The judges heard arguments on Jan. 7, 2011.

The court disbarred four other attorneys via long-awaited per curiam opinions. However, those lawyers were not permitted to practice law while they awaited the court’s decision, as the judges had already suspended them for other offenses or they were decertified for nonpayment to the client protection fund.

* The disbarment of Jeffrey Lawson, of Rockville, came more than three years after the court heard arguments on April 30, 2009. The court disbarred Lawson on Aug. 21 for charging unreasonable fees, failing to separate his client’s property from his own and lying to his client about a disciplinary proceeding against him. The court had suspended Lawson in 2007, and he had not practiced since, according to the opinion.

* Cotie W. Jones, of Bowie, was disbarred Aug. 27 for intentional misappropriation of trust money, using trust money for personal expenses, failing to properly designate his attorney trust account checks and failing to respond to bar counsel’s requests for information. The court had heard arguments Jan. 12, 2010, more than 2 1/2 years before stripping Jones of his license. Jones had been decertified for nonpayment into the fund, the opinion stated.

* Godson M. Nnaka, a Baltimorean who ran for president of Nigeria, was disbarred Aug. 21 for not responding to clients, changing offices without telling them, failing to keep them informed and telling them to lie in court. The high court heard arguments in the case 2 1/2 years earlier, on Jan. 11, 2010. Nnaka, like Jones, had been decertified in 2009 for nonpayment.

* Saladin Eric Shakir, of Prince George’s County, was disbarred June 25 for client neglect. The court heard arguments Sept. 1, 2010, more than one year and nine months before issuing the ultimate professional sanction. He had been indefinitely suspended in 2008, according to the court’s opinion.

Indefinite suspension

The court, in an unsigned June 22 opinion, indefinitely suspended James Charles August Moeller, of Harford County, for failing to keep clients’ property separate from his own, to respond to bar counsel inquiries, to pay recordation taxes associated with a real-estate settlement and to maintain sufficient funds in a trust account. The court had heard arguments on June 9, 2008, by which time he had been decertified for nonpayment to the client protection fund.

Signed but slow

The Court of Appeals decided other long-pending attorney grievance cases with signed opinions.

For example, the court took more than two years after argument to disbar Bruce E. Goodman, of Prince George’s County, on May 1 for failing to pay two clients’ medical bills from settlement proceedings, not maintaining a client trust fund account or financial records and depositing client funds into his own account.

Bell wrote the opinion for the 6-0 court, which had heard arguments in the case March 4, 2010.

Joseph F. Murphy Jr., who heard the arguments in the case, retired from the bench last September and did not participate in the decision.

Goodman, who did not return a telephone message left at his office number, was permitted to practice law during the interim.

The high court, in a 4-3 opinion by Bell, took three years to reprimand attorney Dana Andrew Paul for copying opposing counsel’s signature off a revised document, then pasting it on the original version and filing it without her permission. The court, which heard arguments in the case Sept. 4, 2008, issued its decision Oct. 31, 2011. The dissenters would have preferred a 90-day suspension for Paul, an Edgewater solo.

“It was aggravating,” Paul said of the three-year wait. “But it worked out all right.”