An attorney who lied about the status of a complaint, failed to keep clients informed and did not promptly return unearned fees was immediately disbarred one day after oral arguments in her case.
The Court of Appeals disbarred Michelle Hamilton Davy in a two-page per curiam order Thursday, signed by Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera.
Findings by Prince George’s County Circuit Judge Beverly J. Woodard indicated that Davy violated her duties to diligently and competently represent clients, keep clients informed, place client funds in a trust account, return unearned fees promptly and withdraw from cases in a timely manner.
The Court of Appeals heard the case on Wednesday, the opening day of its September 2013 term.
During those arguments, Davy told the court she believed there was an unethical relationship between the circuit court judge and the Attorney Grievance Commission, claiming Woodard and bar counsel’s investigator held discussions without her and that none of her mitigating circumstances was mentioned in Woodard’s findings.
“I think there was some coercion, some patronage involved in it wherein it was not fair,” Davy argued, according to a recording of the proceedings on the Court of Appeals’ website.
Assistant Bar Counsel Dolores O. Ridgell, who argued on behalf of the Attorney Grievance Commission, said Davy had been deflecting concerns away from herself and onto others throughout the process.
“It’s her inability to objectively look at the conduct she engaged in with these two client complaints,” Ridgell told the court. “I think that inability means she is not able to correct the problem because she does not acknowledge there is a problem.”
Deputy Bar Counsel Raymond A. Hein declined to comment on the opinion Thursday. A phone number for Davy had been disconnected.
The action came after two of Davy’s former clients filed complaints with the Attorney Grievance Commission.
Davy, 52, was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1990 and the Maryland Bar in 1996. In September 2003, she was suspended by consent here after 10 complaints were filed against her for failing to diligently represent her clients.
After her reinstatement in December 2004, Davy worked in the United States Office of Compliance and later as an assistant attorney general in Washington, D.C.
She opened her own practice in Prince George’s County in May 2008.
Davy represented Linda Smalls in an employment law matter starting in October 2009.
Davy told Smalls she would charge $200 per hour and a $2,500 to $3,000 retainer, which Davy later raised to $5,000, then $20,000.
Davy did not file Smalls’ complaint until several hours before its deadline on Nov. 6, 2009. A week later, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia returned the complaint because Davy did not include a civil coversheet and summons. Also, although Davy had been admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1997, she had let her membership lapse.
Davy did not inform Smalls the complaint was returned. Smalls did not find out until she called the court on Dec. 2, 2009, and learned it had no record of her lawsuit.
Smalls terminated Davy’s representation, but Davy did not file her withdrawal from the case until after March 2010, when she was investigated by the Attorney Grievance Commission. Smalls did not receive her $8,000 refund from Davy until December 2010.
The second complaint against Davy was filed by Bobby McAdams, the owner of Watch Tune Up Inc. The jeweler retained Davy in a bankruptcy matter in February 2009. He paid a $1,500 nonrefundable engagement fee and later made two payments of $3,000 each.
In October 2009, Davy emailed McAdams informing him she was withdrawing from representing him, since she was deciding to concentrate on family law cases. She said she would refund him $2,000, but McAdams did not receive the refund or his case file until March 2010 — well after he had hired a second attorney.
Davy failed to deposit both clients’ funds in a trust account. She told Woodard, the hearing judge in her disciplinary matter, that she did not escrow Smalls’ fees because she needed the money to pay McAdams his $2,000 refund.
Davy told the Court of Appeals that if she were punished, she should only be indefinitely suspended, while the Attorney Grievance Commission asked for immediate disbarment.
The court did not explain its reasons for the immediate disbarment, promising to do so in an opinion to be filed later.
WHAT THE COURT HELD
Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Michelle Hamilton Davy, AG No. 2, September Term 2011, Argued Sept. 4, 2013. Decided Sept. 5, 2013. Per Curium Order.
What is the appropriate sanction for an attorney accused of deceiving her client about the status of a complaint and failing to return unearned fees promptly, withdraw promptly, escrow client funds and represent clients diligently and competently?
The Court of Appeals imposed an immediate disbarment, with its reasons to be stated in an opinion to be filed later.
Dolores O. Ridgell, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, for petitioner; Michelle Hamilton Davy, for herself.
RecordFax #13-0905-20 (2 pages).