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Attorney disbarred, misled client about status of adoption case

Baltimore attorney Anne Margaret Miller was disbarred Wednesday by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which found that she misled a client into believing that she had filed the client’s adoption petition and that she intentionally delayed resolution of the case in hopes of receiving payment.

Miller, who was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1998, operated a solo practice in Baltimore. She declined to comment Wednesday on her disbarment.

The Court of Appeals opinion was written by retired Judge Clayton Greene Jr., who was sitting by special assignment.

The client, a woman referred to as R.W. in the Court of Appeals opinion, informed Miller that she wanted to adopt her grandniece, whose mother had substance abuse issues, according to the opinion. The client also told Miller that she wanted to have the adoption completed by July 30, 2016, the date of the client’s wedding, the opinion stated.

A retainer agreement between Miller and R.W. indicated that Miller would charge $275 per hour and requested a $2,500 retainer fee, which the client paid, according to the opinion. The agreement also indicated that the adoption proceedings would cost between $3,000 and $5,000, the opinion said.

Although Miller testified that she sent R.W. her first monthly invoice in August 2015, the client testified that Miller for months never provided an invoice, according to the Court of Appeals opinion.

In a hearing on May 17, 2019, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Charles H. Dorsey found R.W.’s testimony credible and rejected Miller’s assertion about invoices to R.W., according to the Court of Appeals opinion.

Between Dec. 10, 2015, and April 22, 2016, the client contacted Miller by phone “on several occasions” to ask for an update on her adoption case, only to be told by Miller that she had filed the adoption paperwork and would visit the court clerk’s office to check on the progress of the proceedings, Greene wrote in his opinion.

The client became aware of the amount she owed Miller only on Sept. 7, 2016, in an exchange of text messages with Miller, the opinion stated.

The opinion also stated that the client was unaware that Miller had never filed the petition for adoption until October 2016, when the client investigated the matter herself, visiting the clerks’ offices in Baltimore city and county courthouses.

The client and Miller then agreed to a revised payment plan, in which R.W. said she would pay half of the outstanding balance when Miller provided proof that the petition for adoption had been filed and the other half as the adoption proceedings progressed, according to the opinion.

Between December 2016 and January 2017, the client sent several text messages to Miller asking about the status of her adoption petition. Miller responded that she was “waiting to be paid,” according to the Court of Appeals opinion.

The client terminated her relationship with Miller via email on Jan. 19, 2017, the opinion said.

In response to an investigation by the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission, Judge Dorsey found that Miller had intentionally and incorrectly told Maryland Bar Counsel Lydia Lawless that she provided the client with monthly invoices and that the client refused to pay.

Additionally, Dorsey found that Miller provided a different retainer agreement to Lawless than the one she gave the client.

The court found that Miller violated multiple state rules of professional conduct for lawyers, including rules dealing with diligence, communication and fees.

Finding that Miller had engaged in “overarching dishonesty undergirding a substantial number of these violations,” Greene concluded his opinion by stating that “disbarment is the only appropriate action.”

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