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Divided Md. top court denies bar admission to applicant

A sharply divided Court of Appeals has denied Maryland bar admission to an applicant who failed to disclose information related to an alleged probation violation.

While both the state Board of Law Examiners and a character committee that conducted a hearing on Otion Gjini’s fitness to practice law recommended that Gjini be admitted, the state’s top court found that his failure to supplement his application amounted to an unacceptable lack of candor for a would-be attorney.

“We are not persuaded that Gjini’s failure to disclose is mitigated in any way by his various excuses which varied from initially not knowing he had to disclose, then with his assumption that he did not have to disclose and finally, that his failure was a calculated error,” retired Judge Lynne A. Battaglia wrote Thursday for the court’s majority. “We have consistently stated that disclosure on the Bar application and supplementation is mandatory.”

Said Mark E. Sobel, Gjini’s lawyer before the Court of Appeals: “Mr. Gjini disagrees with the decision, he’s disappointed with the decision, and he is looking for his next steps to be admitted to the bar of Maryland.”

Sobel is with The Law Offices of James E. Crawford Jr. & Associates LLC in Baltimore.

Online program

On his bar application, Gjini responded to a question asking for a complete record of his involvement in criminal proceedings by stating he had received a probation before judgment after being charged with driving while impaired by alcohol in 2013, according to the court’s ruling. His probation included a requirement that he successfully complete a local Health Department alcohol treatment program, according to the ruling.

After interviewing Gjini, David DeJong, a member of the Character Committee for the 7th Appellate Circuit, concluded Gjini had failed to prove his character and moral fitness to practice law, citing concerns about Gjini’s “extensive” record of driving offenses, as well as the impropriety of online comments Gjini had written while in law school.

The character committee set a hearing date for Gjini, but before the hearing was held, his probation officer alleged Gjini failed to verify he completed an alcohol treatment program, the opinion states. A corresponding show cause order required Gjini to appear in Montgomery County District Court, which he did several days before the character committee hearing. There, a judge found Gjini had not satisfied the alcohol education requirement of his probation because he had chosen an online program, rather than in-person one, and gave him 60 days to complete an appropriate program.

Gjini did not supplement his bar application with any information about the alleged probation violation or the district court proceedings, according to the Court of Appeals. Instead, the character committee chair discovered the petition to violate probation on the Maryland Judiciary’s Case Search website.

“We are only able to evaluate Gjini’s lack of candor because a Character Committee member was doing his ‘job’ and found information that was material to the evaluation of Gjini’s character and fitness,” Battaglia wrote. “… Gjini’s disregard of his obligation to disclose, whether because of ignorance or calculated error does not warrant his admission to the Bar of Maryland.”

The committee questioned Gjini about the omission of the probation-related proceedings from his application but ultimately recommended him for the bar in a split decision. The state Board of Law Examiners, after reviewing the committee report, held a hearing in December on the matter and unanimously voted to recommend Gjini’s admission.

Minor transgression?

Judge Sally D. Adkins, in a dissent joined by Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera and Judge Robert N. McDonald, wrote she agreed with both the Board of Law Examiners and the character committee that Gjini.

“His alleged violation of probation — the taking of an online course rather than participating in an appropriate course in-person — is a rather minor transgression,” Adkins wrote. “Although Mr. Gjini was clearly under the obligation to supplement his Application for Bar Admission, not doing so under these circumstances should not constitute the basis for denying him the privilege of practicing law for which he has studied.”

The case is In the Matter of the Application of Otion Gjini to the Bar of Maryland, Misc. No. 32, September Term 2015.