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Gulf War veteran draws indefinite suspension

An Abingdon-based lawyer is being indefinitely suspended for ignoring client calls and emails, failing to file essential court documents and helping a disbarred attorney practice law.

David Eugene Bocchino was sanctioned by the Court of Appeals in a decision issued Monday.

The court stopped short of disbarment because there was no misappropriation of funds and because Bocchino struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his military service in the Gulf War, which causes him to procrastinate and renders him incapable of making decisions, according to his doctor.

“The trial judge’s analysis of the facts, including mitigating factors, contributed to our determination to recommend that Mr. Bocchino be indefinitely suspended,” Glenn M. Grossman, Bar Counsel to the Attorney Grievance Commission, said in a statement. “The Court’s opinion reflects its recognition that Mr. Bocchino’s misconduct was sufficiently serious to warrant the sanction we recommended.”

Bocchino declined to comment. A solo practitioner, he represented himself at oral arguments before the Court of Appeals last month.

Two cases

The sanctions stem from Bocchino’s representation of two separate clients a few years ago.

Bocchino, who was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1997, accepted an of-counsel post with an Ohio law firm in 2009, taking on a lawsuit that had already been filed against General Motors in Frederick County Circuit Court.

In the case, Bocchino represented Lisa and Montgomery Embrey in an automobile warranty matter when the couple’s Chevrolet malfunctioned.

Bocchino filed a change of address with the court in October 2009, switching from the Ohio firm’s address to one in Baltimore. A month later, he moved from the Baltimore office to his home in Abingdon, advising opposing counsel but not the court.

Bocchino ignored both opposing counsel and his client. He failed to provide discovery to the defense, even when the court ordered his response; he failed to designate an expert witness, and he did not respond to a motion for summary judgment.

Meanwhile, Bocchino largely ignored Lisa Embrey’s phone calls and emails and failed to inform the Embreys that GM’s attorney had requested a settlement demand.

He also ignored the court, which gave him two dates for a mediation; Bocchino did not tell the Embreys about the dates and neither he nor the couple attended the mediation.

As a result, the case was dismissed with prejudice and the court ordered the Embreys to pay GM’s attorney’s fees.

In June 2010, Bocchino filed a motion to vacate that judgment, claiming he had never received any court documents because he changed addresses. The court denied the motion.

Though he told the Embreys he would file a motion for reconsideration, he never did.

In the second case, Bocchino represented Lily Cleaves in a credit card debt collection case brought against her by Pasadena Receivables Inc.

Bocchino began working with attorney Ralph Byrd after answering his Craigslist advertisement in 2009. Byrd was disbarred April 14, 2009, but Bocchino continued to work with him and help him practice law.

Bocchino agreed to act as counsel of record for Byrd’s clients and Byrd would teach him about debt collection law and promised to refer future clients to him.

“Essentially, [Bocchino] allowed [Byrd] to practice in the Circuit Court under [Bocchino’s] license,” Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera wrote in the court’s opinion.

Byrd sent a retainer agreement to Cleaves two days after he had been disbarred, which she signed and returned along with $3,000 in attorney’s fees.

Bocchino entered his appearance in the case in June 2009, but never informed Cleaves he was taking over her representation.

The court granted Pasadena Receivable’s motion for summary judgment in October 2009 and ordered Cleaves to pay $19,750.

Bocchino filed an appeal, but failed to include required documentation. The Court of Special Appeals dismissed the appeal in July 2010.

Cleaves was not aware Bocchino was representing her until her wages were garnished after the court issued a writ of garnishment to enforce the judgment in November 2010.

The whole time, Byrd was assisting Bocchino in the case. According to emails between the two, Bocchino sent Byrd a copy of a motion for reconsideration for Cleaves’ case, which Byrd edited, and then filed.

“Although Byrd afforded Respondent no opportunity to review what he filed in the Circuit Court under Respondent’s own name, Respondent did not admonish Byrd in any way for this conduct nor did he restrict Byrd’s participation in the matter going forward,” Barbera wrote for the Court of Appeals.

Harford County Circuit Court Judge M. Elizabeth Bowen heard evidence in the case in January 2013. Bocchino filed eight exceptions to her findings, all of which the court overruled.

The court found Bocchino violated the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct requiring competence, diligence and communication with clients, and that he assisted a disbarred attorney in practicing law.

When considering the proper sanction, the Court of Appeals took his health and post-traumatic stress into account. According to a report written by his psychiatrist in 2008, Bocchino was “unable to engage productively in his work as an attorney.”

While Bar Counsel recommended an indefinite suspension, Bocchino asked for a public reprimand along with a requirement that he report his psychiatric condition to the commission periodically.

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. David Eugene Bocchino, Misc. AG No. 39, September Term 2012, Argued Oct. 7, 2013. Decided Nov. 25, 2013. Opinion by Barbera, C. J.

Issue:

What is the proper sanction for an attorney who was failed to represent his clients with competence and diligence, failed to communicate with clients and assisted a disbarred attorney in the unauthorized practice of law?

Holding:

The Court of Appeals held that though this attorney had a pattern of misconduct, he had a history with post-traumatic stress disorder and should be indefinitely suspended.

Counsel:

JaCina N. Stanton, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, for petitioner; David Eugene Bocchino, for himself.

RecordFax 13-1125-20 (35 pages).