Montgomery County attorney William Clark Planta has been disbarred by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which found that Planta was consistently unprepared for and late to hearings and that he misappropriated client funds in five cases.
Planta, who was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1998, had maintained an office in Montgomery County. The court on Friday described its Dec. 6 decision to disbar Planta.
In her opinion, Judge Lynne A. Battaglia, sitting by special assignment, detailed five family law cases in which six clients filed complaints against Planta between 2017 and 2019.
In a 2018 child custody case in which he represented a biological father, Planta was an hour late to a hearing, “was unprepared, carried an empty briefcase, did not have any documents with him, and asked to borrow a pen and notepad” from his client, according to Montgomery County Circuit Judge Jill Cummins, the trial judge who is quoted in the opinion.
Planta showed up to a district court hearing for another case “wearing street clothes,” according to Cummins, who noted that Planta was addicted to crystal methamphetamine.
After that hearing, the client made several attempts to reach Planta, who never responded, Battaglia wrote.
In a 2017 divorce case, Planta failed to respond to discovery requests for months and Planta’s assistant emailed the client to say that repeated requests for the overdue responses were “a waste of time,” Battaglia wrote.
In the same divorce case, a year after the first requests for discovery were sent to Planta, his assistant incorrectly told the client that discovery requests were received only the day before, Battaglia said in her opinion.
Battaglia said that in many cases Planta failed to effectively communicate with clients about the status of their cases and also neglected to put clients’ funds into an attorney trust account.
Attempts to reach Planta or his former law partner for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Some of Planta’s clients filed complaints with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission, with the first complaint made in June 2018. Despite multiple letters from Bar Counsel Lydia Lawless and visits from Bar Counsel investigators, Planta never responded or participated in the disciplinary process, Cummins found.
The Court of Appeals found that Planta violated 13 of Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct, including rules dealing with competence, communication, reasonable fees and honesty.
In her findings, Cummins found that Planta violated a rule that mandates attorneys decline to represent clients if their condition “materially impairs the attorney’s ability to represent the client.”
“He disregarded (clients’) requests for information regarding their cases, ignored discovery requirements resulting in the imposition of sanctions, missed meetings, consistently failed to appear timely for hearings, and, most significantly, failed to protect his clients’ trust money,” Battaglia wrote. “Disbarment is the only remedy adequate to protect the public.”
Lawless declined to comment Tuesday.