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Lawyer’s career on hold after depression stalls D.C. discipline

An attorney has been placed on inactive status in Maryland after disciplinary proceedings against him in the District of Columbia were put on hold, at his request, after he was diagnosed with depression.

Nikolaos Panagiotis Kourtesis claims that his depression has lifted, but the Maryland Court of Appeals held that he should not be allowed to practice law here while the underlying disciplinary matter against him remains unresolved in Washington.

“To conclude otherwise would convert Maryland into an asylum for attorneys wishing to flee from pending disciplinary matters in other jurisdictions,” Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. wrote.

Kourtesis claimed it would be a “grave injustice” to stop him from working here, as well as in the District of Columbia, because of the financial loss he would suffer.

The court found that the financial hardships stemming from disciplinary proceedings are not the sort of “grave injustice” that would preclude their imposition. It also implied that Kourtesis might be gaming the system.

“It seems to us far-fetched to call this a ‘grave injustice’ when Kourtesis requested the disposition he received in the District of Columbia slightly over a year ago and, apparently, seeks a hearing in this State in an effort to ‘forum-shop’ to prove he has regained his competency, while keeping in place the abeyance of the disciplinary proceedings in the District of Columbia,” Harrell wrote.

Glenn M. Grossman, bar counsel for the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, declined to comment on the case.

Kourtesis’ attorney, Robert N. Levin, a Gaithersburg solo practitioner, did not return a call for comment. A phone number for Kourtesis had been disconnected.

Kourtesis was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1997 and the Bar of the District of Columbia in 2005.

In July 2012, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals Board on Professional Responsibility filed a disciplinary action against Kourtesis stemming from his representation of personal injury clients.

That December, Kourtesis said he could not go forward with the proceedings or even assist his attorney because he suffered from depression. Two doctors confirmed that diagnosis with the court.

Kourtesis was suspended indefinitely from practicing law in the District in February 2013, and all pending disciplinary charges against him were ordered held in abeyance due to his self-proclaimed disability.

As a result, the Attorney Grievance Commission filed a petition for disciplinary or remedial action in March 2013. The commission asked for a reciprocal sanction against Kourtesis in Maryland.

The Court of Appeals issued an immediate indefinite suspension in the case that November, but scheduled a hearing in the case for December 2013.

At the hearing, Kourtesis told the court he planned to file for reinstatement in Washington in the future, but had not yet done so.

He sought an evidentiary hearing in Montgomery County Circuit Court to show that he was fit to practice law here. His attorney told the Court of Appeals that Kourtesis had been caught in the “perfect storm” of emotional problems, but that the “storm has passed now.”

“We conclude that, even if he has regained competency such that he may be deemed ‘fit to practice law’ at this point, the other reason for his ‘indefinite suspension’ — the stayed disciplinary proceedings in the District of Columbia — continues to exist until dismissed or adjudicated on the merits,” Harrell wrote.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the “the most analogous” action it could take would be to place him on inactive status.

“The District of Columbia has no remedy equivalent to our ‘inactive status,’ but rather deploys ‘indefinite suspension’ as both a sanction and a remedy,” Harrell wrote.

While an attorney on inactive status generally can seek reinstatement by proving that he or she is fit to practice law, such a hearing would be improper while the underlying case was held in abeyance in Washington, the court said in a footnote.

“Incompetency or disability, at least in this case, does not stop at a jurisdictional boundary,” Harrell wrote.

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Nikolaos Panagiotis Kourtesis, AG No. 4, September Term 2013, Argued Dec. 5, 2013. Decided March 24, 2014. Opinion by Harrell, J.

Issue:

What is the proper sanction for an attorney that practices in Maryland who has been indefinitely suspended in Washington while disciplinary actions against him have been stalled because he suffers from depression?

Holding:

The Court of Appeals held the equivalent sanction is to place him on inactive status in Maryland and that an evidentiary hearing in Maryland circuit court would be inappropriate while matters against him are pending in another jurisdiction.

Counsel:

Marianne J. Lee, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, for petitioner; Robert N. Levin, Gaithersburg solo practitioner, for respondent.

RecordFax 14-0324-20 (22 pages).