Maryland’s top court Friday accepted prominent medical malpractice attorney Stephen L. Snyder’s agreement to take on no new clients and to the temporary suspension of his law license beginning March 31 as he faces a federal charge of attempted extortion and related allegations of ethical misconduct.
In a two-page order, the Court of Appeals stayed the state Attorney Grievance Commission’s proceedings against Snyder until the criminal case against him concludes in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Under the accord state Bar Counsel Lydia E. Lawless signed with Snyder, his law practice will be limited to representing two current clients until his suspension goes into effect.
The court order, signed by Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, gives Snyder until Wednesday 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.
The order from the seven-member court noted that Judge Jonathan Biran did not participate in the panel’s consideration and acceptance of the agreement. Biran did not publicly disclose the reason for his recusal.
Snyder’s compliance with the agreement — a “joint request for temporary suspension and stay of disciplinary proceeding” — will be monitored by former federal and Baltimore prosecutor Dale P. Kelberman, who was selected by Lawless.
Kelberman, whom Snyder will pay $2,000 per month plus expenses, will have access to Snyder’s law office – with or without notice — during normal business hours, according to the agreement. Snyder will have to provide Kelberman with requested documents, including client files and business and financial records, while remaining true to attorney-client privilege.
Kelberman stated via email Friday that he “accepted the position as monitor as a service to the court and bar counsel.”
Snyder, in signing the agreement with Lawless, admitted no guilt to the attempted extortion and related federal charges or to any alleged ethical violations.
The stay of disciplinary proceedings pending resolution of the criminal charges ensures that nothing Snyder would have said during the former could be used against him during the latter, thus preserving his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Snyder is being represented in the criminal proceeding by Arnold M. Weiner, Stuart A. Cherry and Marilee L. Miller, of Rifkin Weiner Livingston LLC in Baltimore and Annapolis.
“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 between Lawless and Snyder 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 (Snyder) has an interest in preserving his constitutional rights.”
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 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,” the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland reported.
The federal attempted extortion allegation mirrors claims of ethical violations that Lawless has lodged against Snyder, who cultivated a reputation — burnished by aggressive advertising — as a hard-charging attorney who would obtain large settlements for his clients.
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.”
Snyder was never offered the consultancy.
The criminal case is docketed at U.S. District Court as United States of America v. Stephen L. Snyder, No.1:20-cr-00337-GLR.