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Court of Appeals suspends attorney for incompetent handling of estate

The Court of Appeals has indefinitely suspended an attorney who failed to file required documents and attend hearings while acting as the personal representative of an estate and then refused to turn over estate property to her successor after her representation was terminated.

Patricia DuVall Storch, who was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1982, violated multiple sections of the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct related to competence and diligence while representing George Gault’s estate, Judge Clayton Greene Jr. wrote for the Court of Appeals in an opinion filed Monday.

Storch was appointed the estate’s representative in May 2007, but she frequently failed to file timely interim reports and didn’t appear at hearings before the Howard County Orphans’ Court, according to the court’s opinion.

“[Storch] failed to perform competent, meaningful, or complete legal services,” Greene wrote.

A phone number for Storch’s Ellicott City office was disconnected Tuesday, and she could not be reached for comment on the court’s ruling.

On July 11, 2012, the orphans’ court issued an order removing Storch as the personal representative and appointing a successor, Michael W. Davis.

The court’s order required Storch to deliver all of the estate property to Davis, which included approximately $50,000 in a checking account, Gault’s residence, worth approximately $264,000, and several retirement and investment accounts, the ruling states.

But rather than turning the property over, Storch continued to act as the estate’s personal representative, Greene wrote. After a hearing in October 2012 that she did not attend, Storch was found in constructive civil contempt.

The court granted her the opportunity to purge the contempt finding if she delivered the estate property to Davis within six days, but she did not do so. As a result, another hearing was scheduled, which Storch did attend. However, she did not produce the estate property, and instead left the hearing without the court’s permission.

“Based on the record before us, [Storch] has yet to deliver the estate property to Mr. Davis and remains in contempt,” Greene wrote for the court in Monday’s opinion.

The Attorney Grievance Commission filed a petition for disciplinary or remedial action in April 2014, and the Court of Appeals referred the case to Howard County Circuit Court Judge Richard S. Bernhardt for an evidentiary hearing. Bernhardt found that Storch had violated multiple rules, including those related to attorney competence, diligence and duty to expedite litigation.

The case was argued in front of the Court of Appeals on last month in a proceeding that Storch did not attend, and the high court agreed with Bernhardt’s findings.

“[Storch] exacerbated the situation by repeatedly failing to turn over the estate property to the successor personal representative, even after the Orphans’ Court found her to be in contempt and levied fines against her,” Greene wrote. “Although there was no finding by the hearing judge that [her] conduct was due to greed or dishonesty, that lack of a finding does not negate the seriousness of her misconduct.”

The Attorney Grievance Commission had recommended Storch be indefinitely suspended, and the appellate court agreed that sanction would be consistent with other cases involving similar misconduct.

Glenn Grossman, Bar Counsel for the commission, declined to comment on the appellate court ruling.

The case is Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Patricia DuVall Storch, Misc. Docket AG No. 7, Sept. Term 2014.

About Lauren Kirkwood

Lauren Kirkwood covers the business of law beat at The Daily Record.