ANNAPOLIS — Attorney Thomas P. Dore should be reprimanded rather than suspended for authorizing employees to sign his name on more than 100 foreclosure-related affidavits, because of the steps he took to correct and mitigate his serious ethical lapse, Dore’s lawyer told Maryland’s top court Wednesday.
“He became the poster child for everything we want [a lawyer] to do when a lawyer makes a mistake,” Alvin I. Frederick said of his client.
Dore was under the “mistaken belief” that his authorization — rather than his actual signature — fulfilled his ethical duties under the Maryland Lawyers Rules of Professional Conduct, Frederick told the Court of Appeals.
Once he was informed otherwise by a trial judge, Dore reported his own actions to the Attorney Grievance Commission, told his clients and filed “corrective affidavits” with the courts in which he had foreclosure cases pending, Frederick said.
The high court should balance “its extreme displeasure” with attorneys who pass off others’ signatures as their own against “the mitigation and professionalism” Dore exercised and reprimand rather than suspend him, added Frederick, of Eccleston and Wolf P.C. in Hanover.
But judges Robert N. McDonald and Sally D. Adkins voiced doubt about Dore’s defense that he mistakenly believed he was acting ethically.
The judges said the signed documents had a line for notarization and were in fact notarized before being submitted to court.
Dore presumably knew his “signature” would be notarized but still had others sign for him, the judges said.
“He wasn’t blind,” Adkins said of Dore.
Frederick acknowledged Dore “clearly should have known” but added that Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Justin J. King concluded in December that Dore had not engaged in dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.
The Court of Appeals had assigned King as the hearing judge for bar counsel’s ethics investigation of Dore, of Covahey, Boozer, Devan & Dore P.A. in Hunt Valley.
King did find that Dore had violated the professional responsibility rules by knowingly making false statements in court documents and failing to properly oversee employees who had signed his name.
Assistant Bar Counsel James P. Botluk said Dore’s violations constituted “serious misconduct” and urged the high court to indefinitely suspend the attorney. But Botluk added that the court should permit Dore to apply for reinstatement after 60 days,
The failure of attorneys to personally sign court documents “puts the legal profession in disrepute,” Botluk said, but Dore has shown that “his ways have changed.”
During the court session, Judge Lynne A. Battaglia characterized Dore as one of many attorneys nationwide who have put “a stain on our profession” by failing to sign foreclosure documents themselves, a practice that has come to be referred to as robosigning.
But Battaglia said the high court should encourage attorneys who report their ethical lapses to bar counsel, as Dore did.
“Our system has to depend on self-reporting,” Battaglia said. “We have to give some acknowledgment to self reporting.”
The high court did not indicate when it will decide Dore’s professional fate. The case is Attorney Grievance Commission v. Thomas P. Dore, AG No. 35 Sept. Term 2013.
King, the hearing judge, found that Dore “immediately ceased” having others sign his name after receiving a letter from Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Philip T. Caroom in April 2010 privately admonishing the attorney for what appeared to be blatant inconsistencies in his signature.
Dore told his clients of the situation and self-reported his misconduct to bar counsel, the Attorney Grievance Commission’s chief prosecutor, less than a month after receiving Caroom’s letter, King wrote.
Dore filed corrective affidavits in court cases in which he concluded he had not actually signed his name or was uncertain as to whether he had, King added.
Dore has consistently maintained that he reviewed the documents in all cases but left it to others to sign them in his name.
Another Maryland lawyer, Jacob Geesing, also is alleged to have had others sign his name. Geesing, like Dore, filed corrective affidavits with courts where he made foreclosure filings.
Bar counsel also filed a complaint against Geesing, which the Court of Appeals assigned to Montgomery County Circuit Judge Louise G. Scrivener.
Scrivener held a hearing in March and filed her conclusions with the Court of Appeals on April 30, court records show. The final determination will be made by the top court after another hearing.
Geesing, who is with BWW Law Group LLC in Bethesda, did not return a telephone message seeking comment Wednesday.
The corrective affidavits – which acknowledge that someone else signed the lawyer’s name to the document – prompted the Court of Appeals in October 2010 to adopt an emergency rule designed to identify and weed out irregularities in the mortgage foreclosure process.
The rule allows circuit courts to appoint independent lawyers to review foreclosure documents for problems. Judges may summon lawyers and notaries public into court when the authenticity of a signature is in question.
During one such show-cause proceeding in January 2011, Dore admitted in Baltimore City Circuit Court that he could not vouch for his signature on documents he had filed in foreclosure cases. At the end of his five hours of testimony, Dore expressed regret to presiding Judge W. Michel Pierson, but said he always acted in good faith.
“I apologize for having put you through this,” Dore said.
“I made a terrible mistake,” he added. “It was never my intent to deceive the court. It was frankly stupid, your honor.”