Threatened with the possible loss of $1 million in funds, the state judiciary has turned over information on Maryland attorneys to the state agency that collects unpaid child support.
The judicial branch stood to lose the money if it failed to reveal the names and Social Security numbers of approximately 37,000 attorneys — the total number licensed in the state — to the Child Support Enforcement Administration, which will review the names for delinquent child support payments.
Under a 2007 law, failure to pay court-ordered child support can be grounds for suspension of an attorney’s license to practice law.
The information exchange was ordered by the Joint Chairmen’s Report on the fiscal year 2014 state operating and capital budgets. The report, which was issued in April, dictated that $1 million be withheld from the judiciary unless the records were handed over.
The Office of Legislative Audits, which was charged with verifying that the records had been supplied, sent a letter last week confirming the judiciary had sent the attorney information to the child support agency on July 22.
The Joint Chairman’s report was compiled by Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Baltimore and Howard, who chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee; and Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico and Worcester, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Neither Kasemeyer nor Conway returned requests for comment Tuesday. Calls to the judiciary were likewise unavailing: A representative for Kelley E. O’Connor, director of government relations for the judiciary, declined to provide any information when reached by phone. Frank V. Broccolina, the state court administrator, and Joseph J. DiPrimio, executive director of the Child Support Enforcement Administration, did not return calls for comment.
The 2007 bill was sparked by a Montgomery County school teacher whose husband, an attorney, left her the day her daughter was born. The husband was self-employed and set up bank accounts below a certain limit to avoid paying child support.
The measure raised little debate during and passed both the House of Delegates and the Senate without opposition.
The law adds the Court of Appeals to the list of 14 other state agencies who issue licenses, which can be suspended for failing to pay child support.
The law authorizes the Child Support Enforcement Administration to refer attorneys who fall 120 days behind in child support payments to the Attorney Grievance Commission for suspension proceedings.
Under the procedure outlined in the bill, the Child Support Enforcement Administration is authorized to ask the Court of Appeals to produce attorney names and Social Security numbers. The administration would then refer a lawyer who has failed to pay child support for 120 days to the Attorney Grievance Commission.
The Attorney Grievance Commission would treat non-support cases like any other complaint, investigating and petitioning the Court of Appeals for sanctions. The state’s top court would make the final decision as to the appropriate sanction.
Attorney Irwin R. Kramer, of Kramer & Connelly in Reisterstown, who represents lawyers in attorney grievance matters, said in potential suspension cases regarding child support, an attorney’s ability to pay should be the litmus test.
“There is a big difference between can’t pay and won’t pay,” Kramer said. “If they won’t pay the Attorney Grievance Commission has every right to look into it, but if someone is having a legitimate difficulty through their livelihood, this won’t make it go away.”