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Potomac solo practitioner disbarred following 3 client complaints

The Court of Appeals disbarred a solo practitioner in Montgomery County after three former clients complained about his conduct.

The state’s highest court found Jonathan David Robbins violated several of the Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct related to competence, scope of representation and allocation of authority, diligence, communication, fees, conflicts of interest and general misconduct, according to the opinion published April 3.

Robbins lied to clients, saying he had done work for them that he did not do; he failed to act on client matters despite requests to do so; he failed to make a timely court filing; he did not give clients timely invoices for work he did over several years; he executed a retainer agreement without a client’s permission; and he obtained power of attorney to retroactively increase his hourly rate from $350 to $500 per hour, the opinion states.

Robbins was unable to comment on the decision in time for publication on Friday.

The Court of Appeals found Robbins’ conduct particularly egregious given his work with elderly clients and their families.

“Robbins’ inclination to prey on the elderly is particularly heinous,” wrote Judge Sally D. Adkins, sitting by special assignment, for the unanimous court.

In one case, a circuit court hearing judge found that Robbins lied to a client by saying he was working on the client’s case and was hiring an attorney to assist with the litigation. There was no evidence that Robbins did either of those things, the opinion states.

A subsequent client filed a complaint with bar counsel following a dispute with Robbins over billing; the hearing judge found “Robbins was able to pay himself without any accountability for two years because he failed to provide (the client) with billing statements,” the opinion states. Robbins and the client disagreed over whether certain work was billed on a flat-fee or on an hourly basis, the opinion states.

Robbins said under oath that he never did any flat-fee work for the client, but he later testified that the client “expressly indicated that she never wanted to see an invoice or billing statement,” according to the opinion.

A third client, an elderly woman who hired Robbins to handle estate planning matters and to prepare income tax returns, received a bill from Robbins for more than $322,000 in fees and nearly $21,000 in expenses, the opinion states. While Robbins argued that he had told the woman every time they met about his fees, the hearing judge found that his testimony was not credible and that his fees were “far above average,” the opinion states.

Robbins argued that his due process rights were irreparably harmed by bar counsel and that the Attorney Grievance Commission’s case should be dismissed or docketed again. Those arguments were rejected by the Montgomery County Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals in 2018.

“Robbins presents no new information or further factual support that would require us to depart from our previous rejection. Thus, we feel no compulsion to address these claims, again, here,” the opinion states in a footnote.

Robbins also sued Bar Counsel Lydia E. Lawless and the Attorney Grievance Commission in federal court last year but later voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit, according to online court records.

Admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1988, Robbins worked with accounting firm Ernst & Whitney, later Ernst & Young LLP and now known as EY, and practiced law part time. Robbins is also a certified public accountant and a certified financial planner. He operates the Law & Accounting Offices of Jonathan D. Robbins, Chartered in Potomac and handles law, accounting, estate and financial planning matters, the opinion states.

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

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Jonathan David Robbins, Miscellaneous Docket AG No. 12, September Term, 2017.

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