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Badmouth lawyer disbarred

A lawyer who made false, scathing remarks about judges and public officials like Gov. Martin O’Malley in an email to other attorneys has been ordered disbarred.

James Albert Frost should lose his license to practice law for making false accusations “impugning the integrity and qualifications” of judges and public officials, the Court of Appeals held.

“Allegations of corruption tend to discredit the public’s trust and confidence in the judiciary and judicial system,” Judge Clayton Greene Jr. wrote for the court.

Frost is no stranger to controversy: he was arrested in Gaithersburg in 2008 after he wrote a note threatening to kill several people, including O’Malley, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Melvin Hirshman, former bar counsel to the Attorney Grievance Commission, according to The Washington Post. No weapons were found when police searched Frost’s home and charges were later dropped.

He was arrested a second time last March, after neighbors complained he was displaying nude photos in the windows of his Fredericksburg, Va., apartment, according to various news outlets.

The disciplinary action stems from emails that Frost, a former lawyer for the federal government, sent an email in April 2012 to his ex-wife and to two attorneys — George E. Meng of Meng Law in Prince Frederick and Maryland State Bar Association Executive Director Paul V. Carlin — neither of whom he knew, according to the Court of Appeals.

In the emails, Frost called former Montgomery County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Ann S. Harrington “lawless” and accused her of ordering police to arrest him in 2008. He said former Montgomery County District Judge Stephen P. Johnson was “a weak man and corrupt judge” He called O’Malley a “pretty-boy hack politician” and Montgomery County State’s Attorney John J. McCarthy “crooked” and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler “corrupt.”

The email also included statements about several members of the Maryland State Police and Maryland District Judge Catherine Curran O’Malley, according to the Court of Appeals opinion.

Meng sent a reply to Frost asking why he had sent him the email. When Frost did not respond, Meng filed a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission.

The commission then asked Frost for an explanation.

Frost sent a reply in July 2012, calling the allegation that he had violated the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct “absurd.”

“How did you as the Maryland Bar Counsel dare to get involved in this sort of activity, Glenn,” Frost wrote in his response to Glenn Grossman, bar counsel for the Attorney Grievance Commission. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

When the commission asked for evidence to support his statements, Frost did not respond except to send all members of the commission an email asking them to order Grossman to respond to his previous email.

“[Frost’s] failure to comply with the rules for disciplinary procedures is inexcusable,” Greene wrote in the Court of Appeals opinion.

The Court of Appeals also cited Frost’s refusal to cooperate with Bar Counsel’s investigation or “to offer any rational reason for his criticisms.”

Frost did not attend his evidentiary hearing in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in May 2013, but filed a motion after the hearing asking to vacate any findings made in the case.

Bar Counsel filed a recommendation for disbarment last July and Frost responded with a motion to dismiss, saying his rights to freedom of speech under the First Amendment were being violated.

The Court of Appeals held Frost violated a rule in the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional conduct that bars a lawyer from making false statements about the integrity of a judge or legal officer with “reckless disregard” for the truth.

The Court of Appeals held that the false allegations of corrupt actions combined with defamatory phrases like “weak man” and “lawless” amounted to professional misconduct.

The court held that this rule is in place not to protect judges, but to protect the judicial system and the public’s confidence in it.

“The Court’s well-reasoned opinion should provide guidance to the Bar as to the precise but very important limitations on attorney statements concerning the integrity or qualifications of judges and public legal officers,” Grossman said Friday.

A phone number for Frost could not be located.

 

Venting allowed

Judge Sally D. Adkins filed a concurring opinion, pointing out only that she did not want the opinion to be interpreted to mean that lawyers could never express frustration over judges.

“I agree, and add that, in frustration, disappointment, or anger at an adverse ruling, it is altogether human to do so — even if the statement is false, or made with reckless disregard for its truth,” Adkins wrote. “Such statements should not be the subject of professional discipline, provided they are made to family members within the confines of one’s own law firm, or to other close associates whom the speaker knows to be like-minded.”

Judge Robert N. McDonald dissented, saying Frost should have been suspended for failing to respond to Bar Counsel, but should not be disbarred for expressing his opinion.

“In the end, the rule is aimed at intentional factual misstatements, not rude opinion,” McDonald wrote.

 

Other action

Also last week, the Court of Appeals:

* Disbarred former Virginia Bar Association President Glenn Charles Lewis (see story, page 14A) ;

* Accepted the joint petition for a reprimand by consent, filed by bar counsel and Susan Whittington Russell;

* Issued an explanation for its immediate disbarment of Steven Gene Berry in January. The court disbarred the Bethesda solo attorney for taking funds from an estate without the court’s permission and overdrawing his attorney trust account.

 

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. James Albert Frost, AG No. 69, September Term 2012, Argued Jan. 13, 2014. Decided Feb. 26, 2014. Opinion by Greene, J. Concurrence by Adkins, J. Dissent by McDonald, J.

Issue:

What is the proper sanction for an attorney who writes false statements about judges and public officials in an email to other lawyers he does not know?

Holding:

The proper sanction is disbarment since the lawyer made false statements, impugned the integrity of judges and public officials and showed a “reckless disregard” for truth as well as refused to cooperate with Bar Counsel.

Counsel:

Lydia E. Lawless, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, for petitioner; James Albert Frost on his behalf.

RecordFax 14-0226-22 (37 pages).