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Law Digest — Maryland Court of Appeals — Feb. 7, 2019

Court of Appeals

Professional Responsibility, Disbarment: Court of Appeals disbarred lawyer who engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice by failing to keep client reasonably informed about the status of client’s matter, failing to respond to client’s repeated reasonable requests for information, and failing to diligently pursue client’s equal opportunity claim; and who engaged in intentionally dishonest conduct by filing pleadings with the circuit court in child custody action that were improper, without legal purpose and prejudiced client by not advancing client’s case in any meaningful way; charging client an unreasonable fee of in child custody case by failing to advance client’s cause of action in any meaningful way by filing frivolous pleadings; offering inflated client invoice to the district court in attorney fee collection case in order to request a jury trial where payment sought was wholly unearned; failing to dismiss appeal with the Court of Special Appeals in fee collection case against former client when ordered to cease and desist by bankruptcy court; further failing to obey order of bankruptcy court by filing an extension of time to file a brief with the Court of Special Appeals; and failing to appear or respond to bankruptcy court’s show cause order, resulting in lawyer being found in contempt. Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Scott A. Conwell, Misc. Docket AG No. 22, Sept. Term, 2017.

Professional Responsibility, Disbarment: The Court of Appeals disbarred attorney who violated various Rules of Professional Conduct stemming from his failure to properly manage his attorney trust account and his failure to promptly and sufficiently respond to Bar Counsel, where, in aggregate, attorney’s violations represented a neglect for his professional responsibilities and repeated failure to respond to Bar Counsel’s demands represented prejudicial conduct towards the legal profession. Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Jerome P. Johnson, Misc. Docket AG No. 36, Sept. Term 2017.

 

Professional Responsibility

Disbarment

BOTTOM LINE: Court of Appeals disbarred lawyer who engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice by failing to keep client reasonably informed about the status of client’s matter, failing to respond to client’s repeated reasonable requests for information, and failing to diligently pursue client’s equal opportunity claim; and who engaged in intentionally dishonest conduct by filing pleadings with the circuit court in child custody action that were improper, without legal purpose and prejudiced client by not advancing client’s case in any meaningful way; charging client an unreasonable fee of in child custody case by failing to advance client’s cause of action in any meaningful way by filing frivolous pleadings; offering inflated client invoice to the district court in attorney fee collection case in order to request a jury trial where payment sought was wholly unearned; failing to dismiss appeal with the Court of Special Appeals in fee collection case against former client when ordered to cease and desist by bankruptcy court; further failing to obey order of bankruptcy court by filing an extension of time to file a brief with the Court of Special Appeals; and failing to appear or respond to bankruptcy court’s show cause order, resulting in lawyer being found in contempt.

CASE: Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Scott A. Conwell, Misc. Docket AG No. 22, Sept. Term, 2017 (filed Jan. 23, 2019) (Judges Barbera, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten & BATTAGLIA (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned)).

FACTS: Scott A. Conwell was admitted to the Maryland Bar on December 14, 1999. On July 24, 2017, the Bar Counsel filed a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action against Conwell related to his representation of Julie Brewington, Gino DeSerio, and Dennis Olsen. The Petition alleged that Conwell violated the following Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct (“Rule”): 1.1 (Competence), 1.2 (Scope of Representation and Allocation of Authority between Client and Lawyer), 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4 (Communication), 1.5 (Fees), 1.16 (Declining or Terminating Representation), 3.1 (Meritorious Claims and Contentions), 3.3 (Candor toward Tribunal), 3.4 (Fairness to Opposing Party and Counsel), 8.1 (Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters), and 8.4 (Misconduct).

Sometime in the spring of 2013, Julie Brewington filed a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against her former employer. In the summer of 2014, Ms. Brewington retained Conwell to represent her in the EEOC matter, because he represented that he practiced employment law. Around August 7, 2014, Ms. Brewington signed a retainer agreement with Conwell and gave him a check for $2,500.00. The retainer agreement provided that Conwell would file a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (“Maryland Commission”) and represent her before that agency, in addition to the EEOC.

At the time Conwell was retained, Ms. Brewington did not know the status of her prior pro se filing with the EEOC. Describing the EEOC as a “black hole,” Ms. Brewington communicated to Conwell that a year and a half had elapsed since her filing and that she was concerned that she may have missed certain deadlines. In ten response, Conwell informed Ms. Brewington that, “[i]f you filed with the EEOC, you should just wait. They are a slow government organization.”

Upon further investigation, Conwell learned that, “due to the passage of time before he had been hired,” he would not be able to “file anything on new allegations with” the Maryland Commission or EEOC. He communicated to Ms. Brewington that they would need to rely on what she had filed, and based on his “knowledge of employment law,” concluded that the statute of limitations had expired with regard to filing with the Maryland Commission.

After the initial few months of representing Ms. Brewington, Conwell’s work on the case became sporadic and his communications with his client erratic. Ms. Brewington testified that she began to feel neglected in her representation due to Conwell’s inconsistent replies to her emails and lack of certainty when asked on the phone about the status of her case. Further, on May 31, 2015, June 3, 2015, and August 10, 2015, Ms. Brewington requested that Conwell send her a copy of the letter he purportedly drafted to send to opposing counsel, but she never received a copy of it; in fact, there was no evidence that Conwell ever drafted such a letter. Also, Conwell had not communicated with opposing counsel until a year into his representation of Ms. Brewington.

Ms. Brewington ultimately terminated the representation. She sent Conwell a certified letter, dated August 10, 2015, informing him, but the letter was later returned to Ms. Brewington, as Conwell never signed for it. Twice, on August 20 and 25, 2015, respectively, Ms. Brewington emailed Conwell informing him of her intent to terminate the representation. In each communication, Ms. Brewington requested a refund of the retainer fee she had paid Conwell. Conwell, however, refused and also failed to provide Ms. Brewington an accounting or a copy of her client file. On September 14, 2015, Ms. Brewington filed a complaint with Bar Counsel. Conwell failed to respond to Bar Counsel’s subsequent request for a copy of Ms. Brewington’s client file.

On July 24, 2014, Gino DeSerio, and his sister, Gina DeSerio, retained Conwell to represent Mr. DeSerio in an action to modify a preexisting Child Custody Order between Mr. DeSerio and his child’s mother, a Florida resident. On July 24, 2014, the DeSerios met with Conwell and entered into a retainer agreement. The agreement stated that Conwell would charge an hourly rate of $375 and that the DeSerios would pay a $2,500 retainer fee. In return, Conwell would “send [the DeSerios] periodic invoices setting forth the amount of the fees.”

Conwell submitted a series of filings on Mr. DeSerio’s behalf with the circuit court, including an Emergency Petition to Modify and Change Custody of Minor Child and Motion to Shorten Time; a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Re: Petition to Modify and Change Custody of Minor Child and a Request for a Hearing; a Line Re: Docket Entry Describing a Petition for Contempt and []Objections to the Master’s Report and Recommendation; Petitioner’s Notification of Withdrawal of “Emergency” and Expedited Relief Motions; and a Line Re: Petitioner’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. However, these filings were not supported by fact or law and failed to advance Mr. DeSerio’s case, and the judge concluded that the issues presented in the filings were either not ripe or otherwise not actionable.

Ms. DeSerio received an invoice from Conwell reflecting an outstanding balance of $11,560, including mostly fees that were unreasonable, as the services he performed had little to no value and failed to advance Mr. DeSerio’s case in any way whatsoever. Eventually, the DeSerios paid $1,500 of the outstanding balance. Communication between Conwell and the DeSerios deteriorated, and their legal relationship was eventually terminated. Upon retaining new counsel, the DeSerios obtained a modification of the custody order in Mr. DeSerio’s favor within six months.

Conwell filed a breach of contract action against the DeSerios, alleging that they owed him $11,110 in unpaid attorney’s fees. DeSerios filed a complaint with Bar Counsel. Subsequently, on May 19, 2015, Conwell requested a jury trial in his collection case against the DeSerios, but his request was denied, because his claim did not exceed $15,000. Conwell then filed an amended complaint requesting a jury trial for the second time. The complaint was accompanied with an invoice detailing his fees and costs associated with collection efforts against the DeSerios. The alleged amount owed on the invoice was $16,533, thus exceeding the $15,000 threshold for requesting a jury trial. On October 17, 2016, Conwell’s complaint against the DeSerios was consensually dismissed, and Conwell refunded the DeSerios the $4,000 they had paid him.

In October 2011, Dennis Olsen retained Conwell to represent him in some real estate matters. Mr. Olsen, upon conclusion of those real estate matters, retained Conwell to represent him in a divorce proceeding against his wife; Mr. Olsen and his wife later reconciled, however, and voluntarily dismissed the divorce complaint. Following the conclusion of these two representations, Conwell posited that Mr. Olsen owed him an outstanding balance of approximately $37,580 for legal services. Conwell filed an attorney’s lien for that amount “on and against any settlement, judgment or award, and against [Mr. Olsen’s] marital property in the [divorce matter.]” On November 4, 2014, however, Mr. Olsen filed for bankruptcy. The following day, Conwell informed Mr. Olsen of the attorney’s lien he had recently filed against him.

Having previously closed Mr. Olsen’s bankruptcy matter, the Bankruptcy Court, in 2016, reopened his case for the purpose of allowing Mr. Olsen to file a Motion for Contempt and Sanctions against Conwell for Violation of the Automatic Stay and Discharge Injunction.

Bar Counsel recommended disbarment in this matter. The Court of Appeals determine that disbarment was the appropriate sanction.

LAW: In Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Barnett, 440 Md. 254 (2014), it was held that the Respondent violated Rule 8.4(d), based in part on his failure to notify a client of scheduled hearing dates and to communicate with her for at least ten months during the representation, conduct which also supported the conclusions that Rules 1.3 and 1.4 had also been violated. 440 Md. at 268. As such, it was found that “Barnett’s actions violated [the client’s] trust and her reasonable expectation that Barnett would diligently and honestly represent her interests. Such misconduct negatively impacts the public’s perception of the legal profession.” Id.; see also Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Bleecker, 414 Md. 147 (2010) (concluding a Rule 8.4(d) violation where attorney failed to promptly notify client and advise her to seek advice of independent counsel regarding a malpractice action, which “seriously impair[ed] public confidence in the entire profession”).

Here, the hearing judge properly concluded that Conwell’s conduct taken as a whole, in particular his lack of initiative and his seeming disinterest in Ms. Brewington’s case after the initial few months of representation, brought the legal profession into disrepute in violation of Rule 8.4(d).” Conwell’s failure to respond to Ms. Brewington’s repeated requests for information and his lack of diligence in her representation amounted to a Rule 8.4(d) violation. Conwell’s failure to keep Ms. Brewington reasonably informed about the status of her matter coupled with his failure to respond to her reasonable requests for information provided a sufficient basis to overrule his exception, as the “misconduct negatively impacts the public’s perception of the legal profession.” See Barnett, 440 Md. at 268.

As to the DeSerios matter, Bar Counsel excepted to the hearing judge’s conclusion that Conwell did not violate Rule 1.4. In Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Green, 441 Md. 80, 98–99 (2014), it was stated that a failure to provide monthly invoices and to request a replenishing retainer once the initial fee was expended, as required by the attorney’s fee agreement, violated the rule. In that case, Green had allegedly spent 25 hours on the telephone with his client. 441 Md. at 98. Despite all that time on the telephone, however, Green’s client was not made aware that her initial $3,500 retainer had been depleted. Green’s client only learned of the depletion when she received a bill six months after the representation concluded, despite her requests for agreed upon monthly invoices, requests in which Green responded to “not worry about it.” Id. at 87. Green violated Rule 1.4 because his “failure to provide the invoices, request timely the agreed upon replenishing retainer, or inform [his client] of the amount of time he was expending on her representation did not provide [Green’s client] with the information required to make informed decisions regarding continuance of the representation.” Id. at 99. In each of these cases, the retainer agreement specified that the client would periodically receive invoices with an accounting of the fees paid and the client requested information about the escalating fee; in the present case neither condition was met. Accordingly, we overrule Bar Counsel’s exception.

Rule 1.1 “requires an attorney to provide competent representation to his/her client by applying the appropriate knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation to the client’s issues.” Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Shakir, 427 Md. 197, 205 (2012). “Evidence of a failure to apply the requisite thoroughness and/or preparation in representing a client is sufficient alone to support a violation of Rule 1.1.” Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. McCulloch, 404 Md. 388, 398 (2008).

The filing of “a motion or pleading that ultimately proves to be unsuccessful or even lack merit is not per se a violation of Rule 1.1.” Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Dyer & Gray, 453 Md. 585, 661 (2017). As has been previously held, however, on several occasions, a Rule 1.1 violation may occur when an unmeritorious claim in a pleading—a pleading that has been filed— adversely affects a client’s cause. See Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Haley, 443 Md. 657, 668 (2015).

Here, the pleadings filed by Conwell on Mr. DeSerio’s behalf demonstrated Conwell’s failure to apply the requisite thoroughness and preparation to properly represent the DeSerios, were unnecessary, lacked merit and prejudiced Mr. DeSerio’s case by not furthering his cause of action, thereby violating Rule 1.1.

Rule 3.3(a) prohibits an attorney from making a false statement of fact to a court, or when one is made, failing to correct it. See, e.g., Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Gordon, 413 Md. 46, 58 (2010). In Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Joseph, 422 Md. 670 (2011), it was held that an attorney’s conduct in traveling to California with the intent to reside there and attempting to practice law in that state by intentionally misrepresenting his residency status in Maryland on his applications for pro hac vice admissions in California state and federal courts, violated Rule 3.3.

Here, it was similarly impermissible for Conwell to represent to the circuit court that he had expended 45 additional hours to collect $11,560, accruing an additional amount of $16,553, which was determined to have been made in bad faith for ill-motivated purposes, as well as impermissible to bill the DeSerios for Conwell’s work in defending against the DeSerios’ counterclaim. Conwell’s violations of Rules 1.1, 1.5, and 3.3 supported a violation of Rule 8.4(a) as well as Rule 8.4(d), because his acts of inflating the invoices were conduct that impaired public confidence in the legal profession.

Rule 3.1 can be violated when an attorney utilizes a legal process “merely [as] a device to apply pressure to the other part[y]” in “an effort to extract legal fees by any means.” Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Powers, 454 Md. 79, 105 (2017). In Powers, an attorney’s conduct violated Rule 3.1 when he filed suit against his former client and a third party in a federal court that lacked jurisdiction over the defendants, simply as a method to compel the payment of fees. There, the Respondent “knew or should have known that the federal court lacked personal and subject matter jurisdiction over [the parties,]” but chose to pursue the frivolous action nonetheless. Id. at 105–06. Here, with respect to Mr. Olsen, Conwell knew or should have known that the Bankruptcy Court’s Order precluded him from advancing his Maryland appeal, but acted to perfect the appeal, nonetheless.

Accordingly, it was determined that disbarment was the appropriate sanction in this case.

COMMENTARY: With respect to aggravation, several factors were relevant to the present case, those being: (a) prior disciplinary offenses, (b) dishonest or selfish motive, (c) a pattern of misconduct, (d) multiple offenses, (e) bad faith obstruction of the disciplinary proceeding by intentionally failing to comply with rules or orders of the disciplinary agency, (g) refusal to acknowledge wrongful nature of conduct, (i) substantial experience in the practice of law, and (j) indifference to making restitution.

The allegations against Conwell were mitigated by the fact that Mr. DeSerio was provided a complete refund. Also, portions of Conwell’s representation of his clients coincided with Conwell’s wife’s pregnancy. Relevant to Conwell’s wife’s pregnancy, his wife did not have medical insurance and experienced complications during this period of time. Conwell, therefore, expended considerable time during the pregnancy attempting to secure a doctor and insurance, which also involved financial strain.

Disbarment is warranted upon finding that an attorney’s conduct “lacked candor, was dishonest, misleading, prejudicial to the administration of justice, and beyond excuse.” Joseph, 422 Md. at 707. The issue is not whether the dishonest conduct consists of affirmative misrepresentations or intentional omissions, but, rather, whether the dishonest conduct was intentional. Attorney Grievance Comm’n 43 v. Penn, 431 Md. 320, 345 (2013). Given Conwell’s intentional, dishonest misconduct, the Court agreed with Bar Counsel that disbarment is the appropriate sanction.

The mitigation offered by Conwell did not rise to the level of compelling extenuating circumstances and did not address the root cause of Conwell’s dishonesty. “[O]nly a debilitating mental or physical condition that is the ‘root cause’ of misconduct and that disables the attorney from conforming conduct to the law and [Maryland Rules] can mitigate intentionally dishonest conduct.” Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Trye, 444 Md. 201, 226 (2015). As unfortunate as the situation surrounding the complications associated with Conwell’s wife’s pregnancy may have been, because he acted dishonestly and with a self-serving purpose, such a finding did not remove him from the spectre of disbarment.

PRACTICE TIPS: “Unlike matters relating to competence, diligence and the like, intentional dishonest conduct is closely entwined with the most important matters of a basic character to such a degree as to make intentional dishonest conduct by a lawyer almost beyond excuse.” Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Katz, 443 Md. 389, 411 (2015).

Professional Responsibility

Disbarment

BOTTOM LINE: The Court of Appeals disbarred attorney who violated various Rules of Professional Conduct stemming from his failure to properly manage his attorney trust account and his failure to promptly and sufficiently respond to Bar Counsel, where, in aggregate, attorney’s violations represented a neglect for his professional responsibilities and repeated failure to respond to Bar Counsel’s demands represented prejudicial conduct towards the legal profession.

CASE: Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Jerome P. Johnson, Misc. Docket AG No. 36, Sept. Term 2017 (filed Jan. 22, 2019) (Judges Barbera, Greene, McDonald, Watts, HOTTEN, Getty & Adkins) (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned)).

FACTS: Jerome P. Johnson was admitted to the Maryland Bar on June 23, 1998. In 2016, he was suspended from the practice of law in Maryland for one year, effective thirty days from the date of the opinion. Attorney Grievance Commission v. Johnson, 450 Md. 621, 150 A.3d 338 (2016). The one-year suspension took effect January 13, 2017. During a period of approximately eight months prior to his suspension, while the disciplinary matter resulting in that suspension was pending, Johnson repeatedly ignored Bar Counsel’s inquiries and lawful requests for information based on PNC Bank’s reported overdraft in Johnson’s attorney trust account. When Bar Counsel’s efforts to obtain a response from Johnson proved fruitless, Bar Counsel filed additional disciplinary charges. The instant action was filed after Johnson was suspended from practicing law. As such, these particular allegations were not before the Court in crafting its sanction of suspension in the previous opinion.

On or about April 21, 2016, Bar Counsel received a notice from PNC Bank, reporting an overdraft on Johnson’s Attorney Trust Account (account number ending in 0313). The reporting form indicated that an item in the amount of $37.54 on February 22, 2016, caused an overdraft of $30.37. On April 28, 2016, Bar Counsel sent Johnson identical letters by both regular and certified mail to the address maintained by Johnson with the Client Protection Fund of the Bar of Maryland. Bar Counsel requested a written explanation for the overdraft, as well as account records specified in the letter. The envelope containing the certified letter was returned to Bar Counsel “unclaimed” by the post office after two notices were left at the P.O. Box maintained by Johnson. The letter sent by regular mail was not returned and presumably was delivered to Johnson’s post office box. However, Johnson failed to respond to Bar Counsel’s April 28, 2016 correspondence. On June 6, 2016, Charles Miller, an investigator for Bar Counsel, spoke to Johnson and received verbal agreement that Johnson would provide a response by June 10, 2016. Johnson failed to respond by that date. On July 12, 2016, Mr. Miller sent Johnson a letter describing their previous communication and directing him to respond to Bar Counsel’s overdraft inquiry by July 22, 2016. Johnson failed to respond by that date.

On August 15, 2016, following further communication with Mr. Miller, Johnson faxed copies of his trust account bank statements for the months of February through May 2016, without any written explanation concerning the cause of the February 22, 2016 overdraft. Johnson failed to provide other account records previously requested in Bar Counsel’s April 28, 2016 correspondence. On August 31, 2016, Bar Counsel wrote to Johnson and again requested an explanation for the overdraft, as well as trust account records that attorneys are required to maintain in accordance with the Maryland Rules. The letter requested a response by September 16, 2016. On September 16, 2016, Johnson emailed a request for a two-week extension in which he stated that the additional documents requested “will require more time [to] gather.” By letter dated September 27, Bar Counsel acknowledged the extension request and confirmed that a response was due by September 30, 2016. Johnson failed to respond by September 30. On November 14, 2016, Bar Counsel received a copy of a letter from Johnson dated September 30, 2016, with an enclosure identified by Johnson as “my client chronological transaction record for my trust account which has been requested in your previous correspondence.” The copy of the September 30, 2016 letter received by Bar Counsel on November 14, 2016, bore a handwritten post-it note on which Johnson wrote, in part, “Copy of original mailed 9-30-16.”

Based on the aforementioned findings of fact, the hearing judge concluded that Johnson violated the Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct (“MARPC”) 2 19-301.15(a) (Safekeeping Property), 19-407 (Attorney Trust Account Record-Keeping), 19-308.1(b) (Disciplinary Matters), and 19-308.4(a) and (d) (Misconduct). It was concluded that the appropriate sanction was disbarment.

LAW: Johnson did not present exceptions to the hearing judge’s findings of fact and conclusions of law, nor did Johnson file anything in opposition to Bar Counsel’s averments. The Court therefore accepted the facts as presented and found that the inability of Johnson to produce records of account funds that were responsive to Bar Counsel’s request established a violation of Rules 19-301.15(a) (Safekeeping Property) and 19-407 (Attorney Trust Account Record-Keeping).

Bar Counsel requested that Johnson explain a February 22, 2016 overdraft in his attorney trust account, which Johnson never clarified. The inability to provide an accurate record or explanation of this overdraft is a violation of Rule 19-301.15, particularly because the rule specifies that attorney’s should preserve “complete records of the account funds…for a period of at least five years after the date the record was created.” Maryland Rule 19-407 specifies that attorneys must maintain account records. Johnson’s inability to produce such records, particularly chronological records of deposits and disbursements, individual client matter records, financial month-end statements, canceled checks, and duplicate deposit slips or deposit receipts, results in a violation of Rule 19-407.

It was further found that Johnson violated Rule 19-308.1(b) (Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters) because Johnson knowingly failed to respond to Bar Counsel’s April 28 and July 12, 2016 letters. Despite Johnson’s verbal agreement to reply to Bar Counsel on June 6, 2016, Johnson failed to reply by the deadline that was agreed upon with Bar Counsel’s investigator. Subsequently, Johnson failed to reply to Bar Counsel’s additional letter, dated August 31, 2016. This knowing failure to respond to lawful demands for information constitutes a violation of Rule 19-308.1.

The Court also found that Johnson violated Rule 19-308.4(a) and (d) (Misconduct). Johnson’s failure to maintain his trust account in accordance with the MARPC, in addition to Johnson’s repeated failure to promptly respond to Bar Counsel’s request for information, constitutes a violation of Rule 19-308.4(d). Because Johnson has violated other rules, as previously outlined, it was concluded that Johnson also violated Rule 19-308.4(a).

Given the specific facts of this case, the Court determined that the appropriate sanction was disbarment.

COMMENTARY: Johnson’s violations represented a neglect for his professional responsibilities. Johnson’s failure to create and maintain records relating to the funds in his trust account, knowing and repeated failure to respond to Bar Counsel’s lawful demands for information in a timely manner, and prejudicial conduct towards the legal profession, in conjunction with a number of aggravating factors including prior misconduct, require us to contemplate a sanction that is commensurate with Johnson’s conduct. Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Walker-Turner, Sr., 428 Md. 214, 233, 51 A.3d 553, 564 (2012). Of note, Johnson failed to participate in the disciplinary hearings in any meaningful way: he failed to file an answer to the Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action, resulting in an order of default; he did not move to vacate the order, nor did he appear before the hearing judge or this Court.

In crafting a sanction, the Court must not only consider a sanction that is “commensurate with the gravity and intent of the misconduct[,]” but must also consider “protect[ing] the public and the public’s confidence in the legal profession[.]”Given the specific facts of this case, the Court determined that the appropriate sanction that protects the public and the public’s confidence in the legal profession and is commensurate with the gravity of Johnson’s violations was disbarment.

PRACTICE TIPS: The Court of Appeals “has original and complete jurisdiction over attorney discipline proceedings in Maryland.” Attorney Grievance Comm’n of Maryland v. Hodes, 441 Md. 136, 168 (2014). At all times, Bar Counsel has the burden of proving the allegations against a respondent by clear and convincing evidence. Attorney Grievance Comm’n of Maryland v. Edib, 415 Md. 696, 706 (2010).