A lawyer for Del. Tiffany T. Alston said she will “sit out for just over a year” before seeking to have her law license reinstated, following her indefinite suspension Tuesday by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
The year will enable Alston, D-Prince George’s, to meet the requirements of a Conditional Diversion Agreement she reached with the Attorney Grievance Commission back in 2010 and to show she is ready to return, attorney J. Wyndal Gordon said.
“She’ll bounce back and she’ll be better, stronger and faster, like the $6 million man,” said Gordon, a Baltimore solo practitioner who consulted on the disciplinary case and represents Alston in two criminal matters against her.
The indefinite suspension is unrelated to Alston’s June conviction for misdemeanor theft and misconduct in office and her trial next month on charges of misuse of campaign funds. The June conviction could lead to her ouster from the House of Delegates, where the first-term delegate serves on the Judiciary Committee.
It was Alston’s failure to live up to the terms of the 2010 agreement with the Attorney Grievance Commission that led to Tuesday’s suspension of her law license. She also was sanctioned for her lack of diligence in representing a family-law client in June 2009 and for failing to respond to communications from the commission’s chief prosecutor.
Alston missed a court hearing in Walesia Robinson’s family-law case and failed to keep Robinson informed of the case’s status, the opinion notes. Alston also failed to promptly give Robinson’s new attorney papers related to the case after the client fired her.
Robinson complained to the commission, which led to the Conditional Diversion Agreement. Under its terms, Alston was required to repay $5,000 to Robinson within 60 days and take a continuing legal education course on ethics, the high court noted.
The ethics charges would not have been brought against Alston but for her failure to comply with that agreement, Deputy Bar Counsel Raymond A. Hein told the Court of Appeals at its June 7 hearing.
Representing herself at the same hearing, Alston told the high court that an indefinite suspension would be “overly harsh” and should be reserved for attorneys who steal from their clients. She said her ethical lapses were never “malicious, intentional or deceitful.”
The court, in finding lack of diligence on Alston’s part, said she replied neither to Bar Counsel Glenn M. Grossman’s invitation to refute his claim that she violated the agreement nor to his petition to revoke the agreement.
“When [Alston] received from the commission additional time within which to respond, even then she did not act timely, either by submitting a response or, at the least, seeking still more time to respond,” Judge Mary Ellen Barbera wrote Tuesday for the unanimous court.
“Respondent, after being notified of her breaches and the commission’s intent to file a petition to revoke the agreement, consistently chose not to participate in these proceedings and belatedly, past the ‘eleventh hour,’ sought to delay them,” Barbera added. “Indefinite suspension is appropriate given such disregard for these proceedings.”
Grossman declined to comment on the court’s decision.
On the phone Tuesday, Alston, a Lanham solo practitioner who joined the Maryland bar in June 2004, requested that questions about the court’s decision be emailed to her. However, she did not respond to the emailed questions.
The high court said Alston, 35, violated Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, requiring lawyers to act with reasonable diligence and promptness; 1.4(a)(2) calling on attorneys to keep clients reasonably informed; 1.15(a), demanding that lawyers maintain client funds in a separate trust account; 1.16(d), requiring attorneys to surrender papers to the client when service is terminated, 8.1(b), requiring lawyers to respond to bar counsel; and 8.4, prohibiting conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
“We have not specified any time period after which Respondent [Alston] may apply for reinstatement, as the commission has requested,” Barbera wrote. “As always, should Respondent seek reinstatement, we will consider then the relevant factors pursuant to [the rules of conduct], including Respondent’s subsequent conduct and reformation.”
Conviction, pending case
In Alston’s criminal conviction, an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury in June found she had illegally paid an employee in her law office about $800 in state funds by characterizing the worker as a member of her legislative staff. Her defense team — Gordon and Raouf M. Abdullah — had argued in vain that the employee, Rayshawn Ford, had performed legislative functions, such as constituent service, and therefore was properly paid with state money.
Alston faces a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison and a $500 fine on the theft conviction, and additional time on the misconduct offense.
Alston’s pending misuse-of-campaign funds trial, slated to begin Oct. 9, involves allegations that she diverted $3,560 in campaign donations to cover her wedding expenses in December 2010 and making a $1,250 cash withdrawal.
Gordon and Abdullah, of Upper Marlboro, have been negotiating with Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt on a plea deal in which Davitt has requested that Alston resign from the House of Delegates, Gordon said. He has countered that the decision on Alston’s removal should be left to the House.
“We’re working diligently and fastidiously to bring it to some sort of conclusion,” Gordon said Tuesday of the plea negotiations. “All points are still sticky but we agree on a whole lot more than we disagree on.”
But Davitt said, “The status is unchanged and we’re getting ready for trial.”
Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul F. Harris Jr. said he would wait until the conclusion of the second trial to schedule a date for sentencing on the June convictions.
WHAT THE COURT HELD
Attorney Grievance Commission v. Alston, CA Misc. No. AG No. 13, Sept. Term 2011. Reported. Opinion by Barbera, J. Argued June 7, 2012. Filed Sept. 25, 2012.
What is the appropriate sanction for an attorney who violates a Conditional Diversion Agreement put in place due to her failures to diligently represent a client, keep the client informed of the case’s status and provide the client’s new attorney with papers related to the case?
Respondent, after being notified of her breaches and the commission’s intent to file a petition to revoke the agreement, consistently chose not to participate in the proceedings and belatedly sought to delay them. Indefinite suspension is appropriate given such disregard for these proceedings.
Assistant Bar Counsel Raymond A. Hein for petitioner; Tiffany T. Alston for respondent.
RecordFax # 12-0925-20 (33 pages).