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Attorney suing for defamation claims bar counsel was malicious

A Virginia attorney suing the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission for defamation says her lawsuit should not be dismissed under sovereign immunity because the commission acted with “malice.”

“With the facts before us, the Defendants continually exhibited malice and ill will toward plaintiff as shown in their false filings and refilings,” Melinda Maldonado argued in papers filed in federal court last week.

Maldonado alleges the commission made false and defamatory statements to a peer review panel, the Court of Appeals and to Montgomery County Circuit Court. She was practicing pro hac vice in a Maryland case representing a woman whose exposure to severe water damage and toxic mold left her disabled, according to court filings.

The Maryland Office of the Attorney General responded to toxic mold litigation attorney’s suit in October, saying the commission cannot be sued for defamation because it has sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment.

Opposing counsel in the underlying case filed a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission. Then-Acting Bar Counsel Raymond Hein and Assistant Bar Counsel Amy Paulick, who is named as a defendant in the defamation suit, requested charges against Maldonado for allegedly breaking several Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct by continuing to work on her client’s case after the Maryland attorney sponsoring Maldonado withdrew representation. Maldonado also allegedly claimed to be a medical doctor in an attempt to get her client’s medical records changed to show mold exposure, according the Attorney Grievance Commission’s petition for disciplinary action.

“(State) personnel, including Assistant Bar Counsel of the AGC, are immune from both suit and liability when they act within the scope of their employment and without malice or gross negligence,” the defense motions state, adding that while Maldonado alleged Paulick’s actions were malicious and grossly negligent, she failed to allege facts to prove that claim.

The commission claims it has absolute immunity with respect to comments made to the commission’s peer review panel, the Court of Appeals and to the circuit court. Paulick also has prosecutorial immunity, as bar counsel’s responsibilities are no different from that of an administrative or criminal prosecutor, the motions state.

The case is Maldonado v. Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland et al, 1:17-cv-01988-ELH.

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