A unanimous Maryland high court has disbarred a Baltimore attorney who fabricated evidence to bar counsel investigators to cover up her ethical violations that included ignoring a client and his estate case for nearly a year and keeping about $2,775 in the legal fees and costs he paid her for services never rendered.
In its 7-0 decision, the Court of Appeals commended Mitzi Elaine Dailey’s “considerable” free legal work on behalf of low-income clients but said her pro bono service was outweighed by her “several serious mistakes” during bar counsel’s investigation. These errors included submitting a bogus invoice and otherwise not cooperating with investigators, the high court stated Friday in stripping Dailey of the law license she had held since December 1994.
Bar counsel’s investigation of Dailey was prompted by the client’s complaint to the Attorney Grievance Commission after he had not heard from her for 11 months despite having paid the solo practitioner a $1,500 retainer and $1,275 for a bond related to his late mother’s estate. Dailey never purchased that bond on behalf of the client, Geoffrey Wolst, nor did she maintain a dedicated attorney trust account for keeping retained fees until earned, the Court of Appeals stated.
“Ms. Dailey acted with a selfish or dishonest motive when she misappropriated Mr. Wolst’s funds and then proceeded to abandon her representation of him,” Judge Joseph M. Getty wrote for the high court.
“Ms. Dailey repeatedly misrepresented facts to bar counsel throughout the investigation and submitted an invoice with fabricated and inflated meeting times to conceal her misappropriation of Mr. Wolst’s funds,” Getty added. “Ms. Dailey has substantial experience in the practice of law…but has demonstrated an indifference to paying restitution or making her client whole.”
Dailey did not immediately return a telephone message Tuesday seeking comment on the Court of Appeals’ decision.
Bar Counsel Lydia E. Lawless, the Attorney Grievance Commission’s chief administrative prosecutor, declined to comment on the high court’s ruling.
Dailey agreed in July 2017 to represent Wolst in his capacity as personal representative of his mother’s estate and accepted a retainer fee of $1,500 based on an hourly rate of $150, according to the high court. Dailey deposited this money into her operating account rather than the attorney trust account required under the ethical rules, the Court of Appeals stated.
Dailey prepared the “appropriate” estate documents, including a petition for administration and list of interested people, which Wolst signed in August 2017. The attorney also informed Wolst of the need to purchase a bond.
But Dailey neither submitted the documents to the register of wills in Baltimore nor purchased the bond, the high court stated, citing the findings of the judge it appointed to make findings in the attorney’s disciplinary case.
Dailey did update Wolst on the status of the estate in January 2018 but then did not communicate with him until Dec. 10, 2018 – six days after bar counsel had sent the lawyer a copy of Wolst’s complaint, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey M. Geller found.
“During this time, Mr. Wolst was unaware of the fact that Ms. Dailey had failed to file any of the estate documents, failed to procure a bond, and failed to properly maintain the funds he had given her,” Getty wrote. “Despite her lack of communication and failure to diligently advance Mr. Wolst’s case, Ms. Dailey did not return any portion of the $1,500 retainer for legal fees, or the expense for the $1,275 bond.”
During bar counsel’s investigation, Dailey falsely told investigators she had tried to “move the case along” but that Wolst had not returned her calls, the high court stated.
Her defense was belied by phone records that indicated her last call to Wolst was for the January 2018 update, the court added.
In the bogus invoice, Dailey falsely stated Wolst had accumulated $1,650 in legal fees and that four two-hour meetings had occurred on July 18, Aug. 22, Sept. 7 and Nov. 9, 2017, the high court stated.
Dailey also failed to respond to bar counsel’s repeated efforts in the summer of 2019 to schedule a date for her to provide a statement, prompting bar counsel to send a process server to the lawyer’s office. Dailey refused to accept service on September 28, 2019, saying the server had “the wrong place and the wrong person,” according to the high court.
Dailey subsequently did not respond to bar counsel’s subsequent emails, voicemails and letters, the high court said.
“Had Ms. Dailey been responsive, she may have avoided the most significant rule violations … and we may have reached a different conclusion,” Getty wrote. “However, because of the serious misconduct outlined in the findings of the hearing judge, disbarment is the appropriate sanction for Ms. Dailey.”
The Court of Appeals rendered its decision in Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Mitzi Elaine Dailey, Misc. Docket AG No. 6, September Term 2020.