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Top court orders disbarment of longtime lawyer

A longtime Bel Air solo practitioner will lose his license to practice law for abandoning clients, charging for legal work he never completed and keeping the money.

The Court of Appeals ordered the disbarment of Lawrence Paul Pinno Jr. after five former clients complained about his representation.

“Mr. Pinno’s inaction impeded the administration of justice with respect to each of the complaints,” Judge Robert N. McDonald wrote in an opinion issued Monday.

The state’s top court found that Pinno abandoned clients without notice, closed his law firm without telling them, failed to complete legal work for which he was paid and did not return unearned fees.

Glenn M. Grossman, bar counsel for the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline Tuesday. A phone number for Pinno had been disconnected.

Pinno was admitted to practice in 1975. The Attorney Grievance Commission filed two petitions for disciplinary action against Pinno in fall 2011. Before the petitions were filed, Pinno was decertified from practicing law in Maryland for failing to pay his annual Client Protection Fund assessment.

The Court of Appeals appointed Harford County Circuit Judge Angela M. Eaves to act as the first-level hearing judge. Pinno did not appear before Eaves when she heard the case last April. Nor did he appear in the Court of Appeals, which reviewed Eaves’ findings and conclusions on Jan. 9.

“This case demonstrates a pattern of attorney neglect that affected at least five clients and spanned two years. Mr. Pinno agreed to represent all five complainants, took fees from all five, without warning or explanation failed to pursue their matters or to appear on their behalf at scheduled court appearances, and failed to return the unearned fees,” McDonald wrote for the Court of Appeals. “Such a pattern is an aggravating factor.”

Hope L. Small retained Pinno in October 2007 to represent her in a bankruptcy case. She paid Pinno $1,200 plus a $295 filing fee, but he did not file her petition for more than a year and a half.

Small also gave Pinno tax documents, which he did not file in Bankruptcy Court. He failed to notify her about a creditors’ meeting in her case, so neither she nor Pinno attended and her petition was dismissed.

Pinno then assured Small he would file the petition again, but never did. Small’s creditors soon began garnishing her wages, eventually taking $3,919. Though Small asked for a reimbursement, she only received about $156 from Pinno.

Billy G. Snyder hired Pinno in August 2009 to collect on a promissory note and recover stock his deceased brother had promised him. Though Snyder paid him $5,000, Pinno failed to file a lawsuit or return the retainer fee.

Robert A. Juliano retained Pinno in a wrongful discharge and gender discrimination case against his former employer in summer 2009. Juliano paid Pinno $700. Pinno told Juliano to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which dismissed his claim. Pinno failed to keep in touch with Juliano afterward and did not inform Juliano when he closed his law office.

In May 2010, Timothy S. England retained Pinno to help his daughter obtain a passport and assist in litigation with his ex-wife. He paid Pinno $1,000.

Pinno never worked on the passport matter and failed to appear at a scheduled meeting and hearing in the case against his ex-wife. Though England asked for the fees to be returned, Pinno never reimbursed him.

Joseph E. Hankins retained Pinno in October 2010 for a criminal case. Though Hankins paid Pinno $750, the lawyer failed to keep Hankins informed about the case and did not appear at trial. Pinno assured Hankins he would be reimbursed, but never did so, the court said.

The Court of Appeals found no mitigating factors in Pinno’s case since he failed to appear in its court as well as the hearing court.

The Court of Appeals found Pinno violated professional responsibility rules governing competence, diligence and communication with clients.

“Although each client had some minimal contact with Mr. Pinno,” McDonald wrote, “the complaints reveal a pattern of inadequate communication between lawyer and client attributable to the lawyer.”

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Lawrence Paul Pinno Jr., AG Nos. 30 & 40, September Term 2011, Argued Jan. 9, 2014. Decided Feb. 24, 2014. Opinion by McDonald, J.

Issue:

What is the proper sanction for an attorney who fails to perform agreed-upon legal work for clients, fails to communicate with them, fails to take action in their cases and then refuses to return fees?

Holding:

Disbarment is warranted, due to the repeated lack of competence and diligence in the attorney’s representation of clients as well as the failure to communicate with them.

Counsel:

Lydia E. Lawless, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, for petitioner; Lawrence Paul Pinno Jr., for himself.

RecordFax 14-0224-20 (15 pages).