Facing a federal attempted extortion charge and related allegations of ethical misconduct, prominent medical malpractice attorney Stephen L. Snyder has agreed with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission to take on no new clients and to the temporary suspension of his law license beginning March 31.
The agreement, subject to approval by Maryland’s top court, would stay the AGC’s disciplinary proceedings against Snyder until the conclusion of the criminal case against him in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Under the accord Snyder signed with state Bar Counsel Lydia E. Lawless, his law practice would be limited to representing two current clients until his suspension goes into effect.
Within five days of the Court of Appeals’ approval, Snyder would be required to cease all advertising and provide to the two clients a copy of the agreement, his federal indictment and the AGC’s petition for disciplinary action against him.
Snyder’s compliance with the agreement — a “joint request for temporary suspension and stay of disciplinary proceeding” — would be monitored by an individual reporting to Lawless. The monitor would have access to Snyder’s law office – with or without notice — during normal business hours, and Snyder would have to provide the monitor with requested documents, including client files and business and financial records, while remaining true to attorney-client privilege.
In making the agreement, Snyder admitted no guilt to the attempted-extortion and related federal charges or to any alleged ethical violations.
“The disciplinary case and the criminal case are based upon the same underlying events” surrounding Snyder’s effort at receiving a $25 million payment from the University of Maryland Medical System, the agreement stated. “The procedural posture of the two cases creates a conflict between two compelling policy interests.”
The Attorney Grievance Commission and the Court of Appeals “have a duty to protect the public and timely resolve disciplinary actions,” the accord added. “The respondent has an interest in preserving his constitutional rights.”
The Court of Appeals has not stated when it will decide on whether to approve the joint request filed Wednesday.
Lawless declined to comment Thursday on the agreement.
Snyder did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment Thursday on the accord. Snyder heads The Snyder Litigation Team in Pikesville.
The eight-count federal indictment alleges Snyder demanded that UMMS pay him $25 million or he would go public with allegations of irregularities in the health care facility’s handling of organ transplant surgeries. Snyder allegedly told UMMS leaders his public smear campaign would include a press conference, meeting with national news organizations, internet advertisements and two videos the lawyer would produce and air on television if they did not pay him his requested $25 million “consulting” fee.
The grand jury indictment, announced Oct. 5 by Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur, includes seven counts of having “traveled in interstate commerce and used a facility in interstate commerce” to carry on unlawful activity in violation of the federal Travel Act.
If convicted on all charges, Snyder would face up to 20 years in prison for attempted extortion and for each violation of the Travel Act, though “actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties,” Hur’s office reported.
The federal attempted extortion allegation mirrors claims of ethical violations that Lawless has lodged against Snyder.
Snyder, who has practiced law for 50 years, has denied allegations of wrongdoing, saying in the ethics proceeding that his request to be a UMMS consultant was made in good faith. He added, through counsel, that a $25 million fee was reasonable in light of his knowledge of medical malpractice law.
“The consulting agreement was … a serious proposal that was not a ‘sham’ in any way,” wrote Snyder’s attorneys in the pending ethics proceeding: Douglas M. Bregman and Geoffrey T. Hervey, of Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday LLC in Bethesda; and Andrew Jay Graham, of Kramon & Graham PA in Baltimore. “Being able to engage respondent as a consultant to UMMS would mean that, instead of bringing cases against it, (Snyder) could assist UMMS to address deficiencies in its program, avoid further claims, and deal effectively with any claims that were brought.”
During his years in practice, Snyder cultivated a reputation — burnished by aggressive advertising — as a hard-charging attorney who would obtain large settlements for his clients.
Snyder’s alleged attempt at extortion occurred during settlement talks with UMMS on behalf of one of his clients, a woman whose husband died allegedly from a botched transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center, a hospital within the system.
During those discussions in 2018, Snyder initially demanded $25 million for the widow but later changed his request to $5 million for the client and $25 million for himself as a UMMS consultant, according to the indictment. Asked by system representatives what services he would provide, Snyder allegedly responded that he could be “a janitor.”
At the settlement sessions, Snyder allegedly coupled his request for the $25 million consultancy with threats of public exposure of his allegations, according to the indictment.
He allegedly played for UMMS representatives his two self-produced videos: one in which he claimed UMMS did not tell patients that organs being transplanted were bad or had been rejected by other transplant facility and another that alleged doctors had left UMMS or been demoted and no longer performed surgery, the indictment stated.
According to Lawless’ petition in the ethics proceeding, UMMS consulted with its outside counsel, former Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein, and brought Snyder’s actions to the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI.
Agents subsequently surreptitiously recorded Snyder’s Aug. 23, 2018, meeting with UMMS attorney Susan Kinter and DePriest Whye Jr., chief executive officer of the Maryland Medicine Comprehensive Insurance Program, which insures UMMS, Lawless’ petition stated.
At that meeting, a UMMS participant asked Snyder how his $25 million request could be considered anything other than extortion, according to the indictment.
“Well, because there’s a different component to this,” Snyder responded, the indictment stated.
“The component is that there are facts independent of her (the widow’s) case, that came out of her case through investigation, that relate to the hospital generally,” Snyder added. “And you’re getting an agreement where I’m allegedly doing some work for you. Uh, it’s not extortion.”
In his statement announcing Snyder’s indictment, Hur “commended the FBI for its work in the investigation.” Hur stated that Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leo J. Wise and Matthew J. Phelps are prosecuting the case in federal district court in Baltimore.
The widow, whose husband died from complications following a kidney transplant, reached a settlement with the UMMS for an undisclosed amount in September 2018. Kinter and Whye filed an ethics complaint against Snyder with bar counsel the following month.
Snyder was never offered the consultancy.
The case is docketed at U.S. District Court as United States of America v. Stephen L. Snyder, Criminal No. GLR-20-0337.