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Md. high court disbars Rockville attorney who lied to opposing party

A unanimous Maryland high court Thursday disbarred a Rockville attorney who falsely told an opposing party that she was under court order to answer his questions and could be held in contempt for declining.

Mark David Wemple also lied to a circuit court by failing to disclose that the “out-of-state” lawyer he was seeking special admission to serve as his co-counsel in a case was suspended from the practice of law in Maryland, the Court of Appeals said.

In addition, Wemple – a Maryland bar member since 2001 — violated basic rules of competence by failing to speak with a client before an initial court appearance and to advise a client of the fee arrangement, the high court added.

In in its 7-0 decision, the court said Wemple had violated Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct pertaining to competence, diligence, communication, meritorious contentions, candor toward judges, truthfulness and respect for the opposing parties’ rights.

“Respondent (Wemple) never acknowledged the wrongful nature of his misconduct; rather, respondent belatedly attempted to excuse his conduct with assertions of illness without proper documentation or support,” Judge Michele D. Hotten wrote for the Court of Appeals.

“Finally, respondent was admitted to the Maryland bar nearly two decades before the events in question occurred,” Hotten added. “Even the most inexperienced attorney is expected to communicate honestly and promptly with the court, client, third parties, and opposing parties.”

Wemple was an independent contractor with DC Law Group LLC in Rockville and maintained a home law office in Howard County, according to the high court.

Wemple did not respond Friday to messages seeking comment on the court’s decision.

Bar Counsel Lydia E. Lawless, the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission’s chief administrative prosecutor, declined to comment.

In its decision, the Court of Appeals cited Wemple’s 2018 representation of Sihan Gao in his next-door neighbor’s challenge to a permit Gao had received from the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services to build a fence between their properties.

The high court adopted a hearing judge’s findings that Wemple served the neighbor, Joanne Fradkin, with an “improper” subpoena compelling her to appear for deposition at his office. The subpoena was improper because only the Board of Appeals can order a deposition in a permit matter, the subpoena was not accompanied by a notice of deposition and a copy of the subpoena was not delivered to the county attorney, the court said.

At the deposition, Wemple then “knowingly and intentionally falsely” told Fradkin she had to answer his questions or face a contempt charge, the high court added.

The Board of Appeals dismissed Fradkin’s appeal but criticized what it called Wemple’s “totally inappropriate” actions, the court said, citing the findings of its appointed hearing judge in the disciplinary proceeding.

The Court of Appeals also adopted the hearing judge’s finding that Wemple had lied to the Montgomery County Circuit Court by filing a motion for the special admission of an out-of-state attorney, Sandy Y. Chang. Wemple “failed to mention” that Chang was suspended from the practice of law at the time, the high court said.

The bogus motion was granted, permitting Chang to serve as Wemple’s co-counsel in their representation of Huaiman Long in her divorce from Pien Sheng Mo.

The circuit court granted the bogus motion and later the complaint for divorce.

In another case, Sida Qiao turned to the DC Law Group when he was charged with reckless driving and related traffic offenses in October 2018, the high court said, citing the finding of the hearing judge, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Christopher C. Fogelman.

Wemple entered his appearance on Qiao’s behalf on Oct. 31, 2018, in Montgomery County District Court. The trial was scheduled for Dec. 20, 2018, which Qiao did not discover until Dec. 19, when someone at the firm told him he needed to be in court the next day and that Wemple would represent him.

Qiao pleaded guilty to reckless driving in March 2019 and later received a bill from the firm for more than $3,700, when he expected the fee to be $1,500.

Fogelman, in his findings, stated Wemple emailed him the day before the scheduled Dec. 1, 2021, disciplinary hearing that he has “pneumonia, a sinus infection, mastoiditis and an active COVID infection” and is on at least seven days’ bed rest.

However, Wemple failed to provide any medical records indicating a diagnosis beyond mastoiditis, an ear infection, Fogelman said.

The hearing proceeded as scheduled, with Qiao and Fradkin among the witnesses for the Attorney Grievance Commission.

“Respondent violated the duty of candor toward a tribunal by intentionally concealing from the circuit court that Ms. Chang was suspended from the practice of law in Maryland and therefore ineligible to be specially admitted as an out-of-state attorney,” Hotten wrote.

“Respondent further exhibited dishonest conduct by misrepresenting to Ms. Fradkin that she must appear and answer questions at deposition, even though the putative subpoena was unenforceable,” Hotten added. “These aggressive tactics far overstep the boundary of zealous advocacy and erode the public’s faith in the profession as one comprised of honest, scrupulous officers of the court.”

The Court of Appeals rendered its decision in Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Mark David Wemple, Misc. Docket AG No. 69, September Term 2021.