Neil J. Lewis, the prominent Baltimore personal injury lawyer, has been ordered to stop practicing law in Maryland as of Sept. 1.
Lewis was scheduled to appear before the Court of Appeals in November for multiple violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, including knowingly using client trust funds for unauthorized purposes. But he conceded, in a joint petition for disbarment by consent, that “sufficient evidence exists to sustain allegations of misconduct against him,” according to an order issued Wednesday by the Court of Appeals.
The order also transfers his law practice to colleague Barry J. Diamond and requires Lewis to allow lawyers with the Attorney Grievance Commission to take control of his attorney trust accounts and business operating accounts.
Steven A. Allen, Lewis’ lawyer, did not respond to messages seeking comment. Allen is a member of Pessin Katz Law P.A. in Towson. Both Diamond and Bar Counsel Glenn M. Grossman declined to comment.
Lewis has been a member of the Maryland Bar since June 1965. He has appeared in television commercials inviting people to call the “Lewis Law Line,” which was also his firm’s website address.
The Attorney Grievance Commission, which had two open cases against Lewis, last month took the unusual step of filing an injunction in Baltimore City Circuit Court seeking to stop him from practicing law prior to the November hearing.
“The defendant is engaged in an ongoing pattern of professional misconduct and poses an immediate threat of (a) substantial injury to the financial interest or property of clients and third parties, and/or (b) substantial harm to the administration of justice,” the complaint states.
The first case, filed a year ago, stemmed from Lewis’ representation of clients injured in a May 2010 accident. A hearing judge assigned by the Court of Appeals to investigate the case, Baltimore City Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn, wrote in her findings in February that settlement checks Lewis deposited on behalf of his clients were used for unauthorized purposes.
“It is apparent to this Court that [Lewis] believes he can use the monies in his attorney trust accounts for whatever purpose as long as the clients get paid in the long run and he does not bounce any checks,” Phinn wrote.
Lewis said he acted in “good faith and in the best interest of his clients” and any rules violations were “inadvertent and the result of his hectic and very busy work schedule,” according to Phinn’s opinion.
Lewis had approximately 800 cases open during the year he was investigated, Phinn’s opinion said.
The Court of Appeals, in its order Wednesday, ordered Lewis to pay the Attorney Grievance Commission for transcripts of the hearings held by Phinn.
Bar Counsel alleged in its second case against Lewis, filed in July, that he failed to deliver funds owed to Injury Treatment Center of Maryland LLC, which had worked with Lewis’ clients for many years. Lewis also was accused of “regularly misrepresenting” to clients that funds were being withheld from settlement proceeds to pay the treatment center.
In some cases where Injury Treatment Center filed suit against Lewis’ clients for unpaid bills, “Lewis entered an appearance as counsel for the defendant without defendant’s knowledge … for the purpose of attempting to settle cases while concealing his prior misappropriations,” Bar Counsel alleged.
Between 2010 and 2012, Lewis withdrew almost $3 million from his trust fund, according to the petition. He also allegedly created written settlement distribution statements that “intentionally misrepresented” to clients where proceeds were going.
Bar Counsel also alleged Lewis has misappropriated funds owed to another treatment provider, Maryland Healthcare Clinics.
The cases before the Court of Appeals were Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Neil Jerome Lewis, Misc. Docket AG No. 38, Sept. Term 2013 and Misc. Docket AG No. 25, Sept. Term 2014.