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Anne Arundel orphans’ court judge receives private reprimand

Real estate agent cited for receiving commissions on properties that were part of estates

A private reprimand was issued to the chief judge of the Anne Arundel County Orphans’ Court earlier this month for receiving commissions as a real estate agent for properties that were part of estates overseen by the court.

Nancy Phelps, who is not a lawyer, has been a judge on the court since 1998 and chief judge since 2009. She is a licensed real estate agent.

The Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities received a complaint from attorney Michael G. Morin in 2013 alleging “while a judge responsible for the administration of estates, Judge Phelps approves herself as the real estate agent listing estates’ property for sale.”

Morin said he found documents appearing to show Phelps’ involvement in the sale of estate assets while working on an Attorney Grievance Commission complaint filed by Phelps. (Morin was not representing Phelps in the case.)

“Frankly, I had to have someone else assist me with it because I thought I misunderstood,” said Morin, an Anne Arundel County solo practitioner.

After an investigation of the complaint, the commission determined Phelps “committed sanctionable conduct” in violation of the Maryland Rules of Judicial Conduct, according to the reprimand, dated Nov. 6.

Among the Rules cited is 1.2, which states judges “shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary” and “shall avoid conduct that would create in reasonable minds a perception of impropriety.”

Also cited are the Rules that require a judge to disqualify herself in proceedings where impartiality may be questioned and prohibit accepting compensation for extrajudicial activities which would appear to undermine impartiality.

The commission found that Phelps’ conduct warranted discipline but not formal proceedings because she cooperated with the investigation and stated she would not continue her conduct, according to the reprimand, which also states further conduct may result in future discipline.

A message left with the orphans’ court on Wednesday for Phelps was not returned. The court is only in session Tuesdays and Thursdays.