The Court of Appeals indefinitely suspended a Baltimore County attorney with a disciplinary record for filing a misleading claim that inflated damages his client sought in several debt collection cases.
The court found that Neil Warren Steinhorn inflated the damages sought by his client, a homeowners association, by 30 percent without indicating that the increase was for his attorney’s fees, as the claim form required, according to the unanimous opinion published last week.
After oral argument at the Court of Appeals in October, the state’s highest court found that Steinhorn violated two Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct related to candor toward the court and dishonesty.
“I’ve very disappointed. I’ve enjoyed practicing law, always have,” Steinhorn said Friday about the Court of Appeals decision.
Steinhorn filed two complaints on behalf of the homeowners’ association for Kingswood Commons, Inc. seeking delinquent condominium fees from two owners. However, on the complaint form, Steinhorn included his attorney’s fee as part of the amount sought by the homeowners’ association and left the designated line for attorneys’ fees blank, the opinion states.
“Although (Steinhorn) may not have acted with a selfish motive or harmed any client, neither negates the fact that he knowingly submitted false information to the court, which any reasonable attorney with his extensive experience handling debt collection matters would have known to avoid,” wrote Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera for the unanimous court.
Kingswood fired Steinhorn in 2016 and hired new counsel, who discovered that Steinhorn did not remit several payments collected for the homeowners’ association in a timely manner. The new counsel filed a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission. A bar counsel investigation found the inflated damages amount sought in court filings, the opinion states.
During a fact-finding hearing in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Steinhorn “candidly admitted” he made a mistake and denied that he was trying to deceive the court. Steinhorn testified that he was only trying to collect was rightfully owed to him based on his fee agreement. However, Steinhorn never submitted corrected forms after the issue was brought to his attention, the opinion states.
Steinhorn is no stranger to attorney discipline. Admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1974, Steinhorn was a former assistant state’s attorney for five years before entering private practice. In 1990, Steinhorn was convicted of money laundering and transporting stolen goods and subsequently suspended from practicing law. He was disbarred in 1994, the opinion states.
Steinhorn was reinstated in 2007 after which he only handled debt collection cases where he represented homeowner associations, small businesses and bail bondsmen, the opinion states.
In previous cases, the Court of Appeals imposed a 90-day suspension on attorneys who submitted false court filings, but those attorneys did not have prior disciplinary records. Steinhorn can petition for reinstatement after six months, as the court typically requires after an indefinite suspension, the opinion states.
Bar Counsel Lydia Lawless declined to comment on the court’s decision.
The case is Attorney Grievance Commission v. Neil Warren Steinhorn, Misc. Docket AG No. 15, September Term, 2017.