Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Lawyer disbarred, another suspended after lengthy waits

Maryland’s top court took a dim view Monday of attorneys who not only evade taxes but help others do so as well and who dip into their client fund, disbarring one tax-averse attorney and indefinitely suspending another for at least six months.

The Court of Appeals’ decisions were issued after lengthy delays. Neither opinion is signed by the authoring judge.

The decision to disbar John Thanh Hoang came more than three years after Hoang’s case was called on April 7, 2010. Hoang did not show up for that hearing.

The second lawyer, Anthony Maurice Harmon, argued his own case on Nov. 8, 2011, and waited a year and nine months for a decision. The court suspended him indefinitely, with a right to apply for reinstatement in six months.

Both Court of Appeals opinions were per curiam, that is, with none of the judges claiming authorship.

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera was tied up in meetings and travel Monday and unavailable to comment on the time lag or the decision to issue unsigned opinions, said Maryland Judiciary spokeswoman Terri Bolling.

Bar Counsel Glenn Grossman declined to comment on the decisions.

Hoang’s disbarment is largely symbolic, as he has been decertified to practice law in Maryland since October 2008 for failure to report his pro bono activities, according to a footnote in the Court of Appeals’ decision. Six months earlier, he had entered a consent judgment with the government in federal court in Virginia. Hoang agreed to a permanent injunction “not to offer tax services that promote non-compliance with federal tax laws,” the opinion states.

Just three weeks ago, he pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to having willfully aided and abetted in preparing false income tax returns. Hoang admitted he had caused a tax loss greater than $1.5 million due to his criminal conduct.

Hoang faces up to six years in prison and a $500,000 fine. He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 6 by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon.

In Monday’s opinion, the Court of Appeals said Hoang violated Maryland Lawyers Rules of Professional Conduct in failing to file personal federal income tax for eight years and including bogus business deductions on at least 527 tax returns he had prepared between 2003 and 2006 for clients as a certified public accountant at a tax-preparation company.

Hoang’s conduct violated Rules 8.4(b), (c) and (d), which bar attorneys from committing criminal acts that reflect adversely on their “honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer” or engaging “in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,” the court said.

“Because there is no significant moral distinction between willfully defrauding and cheating for personal gain a client, an individual or the government, [Hoang] is held accountable for the professional ethical obligations of an attorney whether he engages in the practice of law or any other endeavor,” the high court held.

Hoang, then a registered partner with Tax-Smart Technology Services, claimed false gross receipts for illusory businesses on tax returns for clients, which allowed them to show deductible business losses for such items as purchased websites, the hearing judge assigned to Hoang’s case found.

The federal government’s investigation of those activities led to the discovery that Hoang had failed to file federal personal income tax between 2000 and 2008.

Hoang did not return a telephone message left at his Virginia home Monday.

Trust account transfer trouble

In Harmon’s case, Prince George’s County Circuit Judge Toni E. Clarke, who served as hearing judge, concluded he had transferred $500 from his attorney trust account to his personal account and then failed to cooperate in a timely fashion with bar counsel’s investigation of the transfer.

The Court of Appeals, in upholding that finding, said Harmon had violated MLRPC Rules 1.15, involving the safekeeping of property, and 8.1, governing cooperation with bar counsel. Harmon also violated rules of practice relating to keeping trust account records and not commingling funds, the court said in ordering his indefinite suspension with an opportunity to apply for reinstatement in six months.

Harmon, who represented himself before the high court, did not return a telephone message left on voicemail at his firm, The White & Harmon Legal Group LLC in Largo.

In other attorney discipline cases, the Court of Appeals this month:

* Reinstated Ernest Steven Nichols to the state bar;

* Indefinitely suspended Michael Clifford Hickey Jr. by consent; and

* Reprimanded Neal M. Janey Sr. by consent.

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission v. John Thanh Hoang, CA Misc. AG No. 16 September Term 2009. Reported. Per Curiam opinion. Argued April 7, 2010. Filed Aug. 19, 2013.

Issue:

Is disbarment appropriate for an attorney who failed to file personal income tax for eight years and prepared for clients tax returns that contained bogus business deductions?

Holding:

Yes; “there is no significant moral distinction between willfully defrauding and cheating for personal gain a client, an individual or the government.”

Counsel:

Fletcher P. Thompson for petitioner; John Thanh Hoang for respondent (did not show).

RecordFax # 13-0819-20 (15 pages).

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission v. Anthony Maurice Harmon, CA Misc. AG No. 44 September Term 2010. Reported. Per Curiam opinion. Argued Nov. 8, 2011. Filed Aug. 19, 2013.

Issue:

Is indefinite suspension with opportunity to apply for reinstatement appropriate for an attorney who transferred funds from his attorney trust account to his personal account and failed to respond timely to bar counsel.

Holding:

Yes; the sanction is appropriate in light of similar cases.

Counsel:

Delores O. Ridgell for petitioner; Anthony Maurice Harmon for respondent.

RecordFax # 13-0819-21 (25 pages).