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Md. Court of Appeals disbars previously reprimanded PG attorney

The state’s highest court disbarred an Upper Marlboro attorney based on his involvement in an estate case that the Court of Appeals found resulted in a conflict of interest and the mishandling of estate funds, among other violations of the Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct.

The Attorney Grievance Commission began its investigation into attorney Benjamin J. Woolery based on his involvement in the administration of an estate for several years, according to the opinion filed Thursday.

“We have concluded that (Woolery’s) conduct reflected a pattern of obstructive attempts to prevent the disbursement of estate funds so that he could secure reimbursement for his legal fees,” wrote Judge Clayton Greene Jr. for the unanimous court.

Woolery, an estates and trusts attorney and junior partner at McGill and Woolery, had a reputation in the community as “an experienced and trustworthy attorney,” the Prince George’s County hearing judge found, the opinion states.

Woolery, who was admitted to the bar in 1988, declined to comment Friday on the court’s decision.

Woolery’s client, Roland Hutchens, sought legal representation to administer his friend’s estate. After their initial meeting Woolery wrote up a retainer agreement that stated legal fees, an estimated $5,000, would be charged to and paid for by the Freelove Jeffries’ estate. Both Woolery and Hutchens believed Hutchens would also be appointed as personal representative of the estate but was not, the opinion states.

Then began a complex web of disputes surrounding the administration of that estate. Woolery was hired to represent Hutchens as it related to a dispute over who should be the personal representative of the estate, the opinion states. However, Woolery took on a role beyond that one issue, the opinion states.

For example, Woolery signed off as the estate administrator’s attorney on a document. He also identified himself as counsel for the estate in correspondence with a tax sale purchaser, the opinion states.

Woolery also had access to estate assets through Hutchens. For example, Woolery knew that Hutchens collected rent from a property in the estate and had a saving account with Prince George’s Federal Savings Bank. Woolery also got a $150 check and a tax refund check from the bank sent to his law office issued to Jeffries’ estate, which Woolery deposited. He also did not notify the administrator about those assets, the opinion states.

The hearing judge also found that Woolery filed pleadings for Hutchens without permission, even after Hutchens ended representation. Woolery also tried to manipulate his client to prolong representation, the opinion states.

Woolery was reprimanded in 2017 over the sale of a tractor and backhoe at 95 percent below market value, which the court found was spurred by his “animus” toward the beneficiary of the estate, who at that time was stymying Woolery’s efforts to sell the decedent’s home.

Bar Counsel Lydia E. Lawless declined to comment on the court’s decision on Friday.

The case is Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Benjamin Jeremy Woolery, Misc. Docket AG No. 20, September Term, 2017.

Legal Affairs Reporter Steve Lash contributed to this article.

 


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