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Court of Appeals disbars attorney for theft from law firm

The state’s top court on Tuesday immediately disbarred an attorney after he stole from his Delaware firm.

Though the Delaware Supreme Court suspended Patrick Edward Vanderslice for one year, the Maryland Court of Appeals chose to disbar him the same day it heard arguments in the case.

Vanderslice, who was admitted to the Delaware Bar in 1999 and the Maryland Bar in 2000, was president of the board of education for the Laurel School District in Delaware at the time of his suspension.

Vanderslice began working at Moore & Rutt P.A. in Georgetown, Del., in 2000. After experiencing deaths in the family, Vanderslice began treatment for ongoing depression in December 2009, according to the Delaware court’s opinion.

His firm cut pay for its partners by 25 percent in September 2010. To deal with the financial loss, Vanderslice misappropriated client consultation fees and flat fees from the firm eight times between December 2010 and September 2011, stealing a total of $1,780, according to the opinion.

Vanderslice also instructed clients to sign agreements that did not indicate retainers would be refunded if unearned. He did not, however, divert unearned retainers from his firm or clients.

The firm discovered Vanderslice’s misappropriations in September 2011 and dismissed him after confronting him about the issue in October 2011.

Vanderslice reported himself to Delaware’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel. His firm had told him they would give him two weeks to turn himself in before the firm reported him. Vanderslice then reimbursed the firm for the funds he stole.

Vanderslice did not return a call for comment. Maryland Bar Counsel Glenn M. Grossman declined to comment on the court’s opinion.

The Delaware Supreme Court suspended Vanderslice for one year effective Oct. 12, 2012. The court decided on a suspension because Vanderslice had done no harm to the firm since he reimbursed the missing funds and he did not do any damage to the firm’s clients or finances. The court also took mitigating factors into account like Vanderslice’s pro bono record and decided a public reprimand would be too lenient, according to its opinion in the case.

Because Vanderslice had been sanctioned in Delaware, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland petitioned the Court of Appeals for remedial action in December 2012.

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Patrick Edward Vanderslice, AG No. 68, September Term 2012, Argued Sept. 10, 2013. Decided Sept. 10, 2013. Per Curium Order.

Issue:

What is the appropriate sanction for an attorney who misappropriated $1,780 in client funds, but did not harm the firm, its clients or its finances in the process?

Holding:

Though the Delaware Supreme Court held that the appropriate sanction is a one-year suspension, the Maryland Court of Appeals determined that the appropriate sanction was disbarment.

Counsel:

Dolores O. Ridgell, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, for petitioner; Patrick Edward Vanderslice, for himself.

RecordFax 13-0910-20 (2 pages).