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Former Md. legislator indefinitely suspended from practicing law

Former Senator John A. Gianenetti Jr. in the Maryland State House in 2004.

Former Senator John A. Gianenetti Jr. in the Maryland State House in 2004. (File)

The highest court in the state has indefinitely suspended an Anne Arundel County solo practitioner, who is also a former Maryland state senator, for failing to file and pay his federal and state income taxes for seven years.

The Attorney Grievance Commission argued John A. Giannetti Jr.’s actions violated the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct under Rule 8.4 for committing an act that reflects poorly on the lawyer’s trustworthiness and for engaging in deceitful conduct and conduct that interferes with the administration of justice, the Court of Appeals said in an opinion filed Dec. 15.

“Respondent’s conduct of continually failing to file or pay both his federal and state taxes for a period of seven years and the filing of extensions without paying his taxes warrants an indefinite suspension from the practice of law,” wrote Judge Clayton Greene Jr. on behalf of the court, adding that Giannetti can apply for reinstatement a year from the date this opinion was filed. The suspension begins in 30 days as of last Friday.

Giannetti, who could not be reached for comment, maintained a law practice in Annapolis and was self-employed. He was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1995, according to the opinion.

The hearing judge found earlier in April that Giannetti knew that he had to file tax returns with both the federal and state governments. He did not keep accurate and complete financial records from years 2008 to 2015, according to the opinion.

Giannetti said the complaint to the Attorney Grievance Commission came from a former partner with whom he’s been engaged in a longtime child custody battle, the Capital Gazette reported in April.

The former state senator owes about $38,000 in federal income taxes, including penalties and interest for failure to file and failure to pay, as of February 2016, the opinion says.

It’s unknown how much Giannetti owes the state as he did not provide any of those records to bar counsel. However, the state has a tax lien of more than $112,000 against Giannetti, according to the opinion.

Bar counsel’s investigator did not find any evidence of a substance abuse problem that could have affected Giannetti’s failure to file and pay his taxes. Giannetti did not testify about any physical or mental health problems, according to the opinion.

Besides filing his 2007 federal tax return in March 2011 and one payment in August 2014 toward his federal tax liability, Giannetti did not take any steps to meet his tax obligation, the opinion says.

In August 2014, Giannetti testified in a family law proceeding about failing to meet his tax responsibilities, but he still had not resolved the issue as of his disciplinary hearing in April, some three years later, according to the opinion.

Giannetti did get an extension in some years between 2008 and 2015 but still did not file his returns, the opinion says.

At oral argument at the Court of Appeals, Giannetti distinguished his case from past instances where attorneys faced sanctions for not paying taxes on the grounds that he, unlike some past attorneys, filed for an extension. He argued this detail showed that he “was not hiding” from the IRS. But the Court of Appeals was not persuaded by that argument.

“(The) fact remains that (Giannetti) failed to pay the taxes owed, even when those extensions were granted. Indeed, (Giannetti’s) act of requesting extensions then not filing the tax returns evinces a strong suggestion that he did not have any real intention to confront, or fulfill, his tax obligations,” Greene wrote.

Giannetti was elected to the House of Delegates in 1998 and won a state Senate seat in District 21 in 2002. He was defeated in the Democratic Party primary in 2006 by now state Sen. Jim Rosapepe. Giannetti resigned from his position as chairman of the Annapolis Democratic Central Committee in April.

Bar Counsel Lydia E. Lawless declined to comment on the Court of Appeals’ decision.

The case is Attorney Grievance Commission v. John Alexander Giannetti, Jr., Misc. Docket AG No. 54, September Term 2016.

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