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Maryland Court of Appeals suspends DC attorney for 60 days

Judge Michele Hotten on the bench at the Court of Appeals (File)

Judge Michele Hotten on the bench at the Court of Appeals (File)

The Court of Appeals suspended a Washington attorney for 60 days, stemming from her handling of a family law case and failing to safeguard client money. The attorney can be reinstated after proving that she has completed a course for solo practitioners with a focus on maintaining an attorney trust account, the court said in an opinion filed Friday.

Yolanda M. Thompson, a member of the District of Columbia Bar since 2012, has a practice in Silver Spring. The state’s highest court found that Thompson violated more than a dozen Maryland Attorneys Rules of Professional Conduct but that certain mitigating factors specific to the facts of the case convinced the court that Thompson’s actions did not warrant disbarment.

“In the instant case, (Thompson’s) absence of a prior disciplinary record, lack of a dishonest or selfish motive, and inexperience in the practice of law function as mitigating factors,” wrote Judge Michele D. Hotten for the court.

In addition, the court found Thompson was unlikely to repeat her actions in the future.

“This is an appropriate sanction that protects the public and the public’s confidence in the legal profession and ensures that the sanction is commensurate with the gravity of the misconduct,” Hotten wrote.

Even though Thompson is not licensed in Maryland, the Court of Appeals can sanction her because she held herself out as practicing law in the state.

Bar counsel alleged Thompson failed to “diligently and competently” represent a client in a family law case, failed to communicate, failed to return unearned fees, safeguard client money and “abandoned” the case, the opinion states. Thompson also made a false statement of material fact and failed to respond to requests for information during a bar counsel investigation into her conduct, the opinion states.

After two overdrafts in her attorney trust account in 2016, bar counsel made multiple attempts to contact Thompson. In May 2017, an investigator for the Attorney Grievance Commission went to Thompson’s home and left a business card with her mother, according to the opinion.

Thompson later called the investigator and told him that she closed her attorney trust account in October 2016. She also told the investigator that she only handled bankruptcy matters and therefore did not need the account, the opinion states.

The hearing judge called that statement “knowingly and intentionally false,” the opinion states.

Thompson later admitted to the hearing judge that she had never handled bankruptcy matters but instead mostly took on immigration cases, the opinion states.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Shirley M. Watts agreed that a 60-day suspension was appropriate, but clarified that Thompson’s conduct did not warrant disbarment because of fact-specific circumstances.

“I fear that, in future attorney discipline proceedings, practitioners who have committed acts of intentional dishonesty will rely on the Majority Opinion for the proposition that their misconduct does not warrant disbarment by virtue of general mitigating factors, rather than compelling extenuating circumstances,” Watts wrote.

Watts emphasizes that Thompson false statement that she handled bankruptcy cases to cover up the unauthorized practice of law did not benefit her because Thompson handled mostly immigration matters which are also governed by federal law.

Bar counsel alleged that Thompson engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by having a law office in Maryland, not that she was practicing Maryland law before state courts without being licensed in the state, Watts wrote.

Bar Counsel Lydia E. Lawless declined to comment on the court’s opinion. Thompson did not respond to a request for comment.

The case is Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Yolanda Massaabioseh Thompson, Misc. Docket AG No. 53, September Term 2017.

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