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Md. high court disbars attorney who withheld default judgment from client

A unanimous Maryland Supreme Court last week disbarred a Lanham attorney whose client, a homeowners’ association, discovered it had lost in court only after its bank had withdrawn the damages award from its account.

In their 7-0 decision, the justices concluded that Keith A. Parris had lied to a circuit court, collected unearned fees, failed to file opposition motions, ignored discovery requests and misrepresented the status of the ethically barren case to his client, Chaddsford Community Association Inc.

Parris also failed to respond bar counsel’s information requests during the investigation of his misconduct, the high court stated in stripping him of the law license he had held for more than 35 years.

“Parris exhibited a dishonest or selfish motive when he made knowing and intentional misrepresentations about the case to conceal his derelict performance from the court and Chaddsford,” Justice Angela M. Eaves wrote for the high court. “Parris’ representation of Chaddsford and conduct in these disciplinary proceedings exhibited a clear pattern of misconduct.”

Parris did not immediately respond Monday to a message seeking comment on the high court’s decision.

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

Parris’ multiple misconducts occurred while representing the Brandywine homeowners’ association from 2018 to 2020 in its defense against a claim by its former law firm, the Law Offices of Gregory A. Alexandrides LLC, that a $75,000 legal fee had gone unpaid.

Parris’ violations of the Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct began early in the representation.

He failed to file a response to the law firm’s motion to stay its pending action against the association in district court while the firm pursued a claim in Prince George’s County Circuit. The district court granted the unopposed motion, for which Parris nevertheless charged Chaddsford $2,460, the high court stated, citing findings of the circuit court judge it appointed to hold a hearing on bar counsel’s disciplinary charges against him.

Though Parris filed an answer to the law firm’s circuit court complaint, he failed to forward the firm’s discovery requests to Chaddsford and timely respond to the requests, Prince George’s County Circuit Judge Wytonja  L. Curry found.

The firm moved for summary judgment, stating Parris’ failure to respond must be treated as an admission of fault. Parris opposed the motion, saying he could not adequately respond to the discovery request because he had not received documents from the firm.

That statement to the court however, was “knowingly and intentionally false” because the firm had complied with Parris’ request for the documents, the high court said, citing Curry.

The circuit court denied the motion for summary judgment but ordered Parris to submit discovery responses.

Parris’ responses were incomplete and an email attachment could not be opened. He then did not respond to the law firm’s two emails asking that he send complete discovery responses that could be opened, Curry found.

The law firm moved for sanctions. Parris did not respond to the motion, but billed Chaddsford $3,955 for legal services.

The circuit court denied the sanctions motion in favor of giving Parris seven days to respond to the discovery requests. When Parris failed to comply, the law firm moved not only for sanctions but for a default judgment, which the court granted and which he never moved to vacate.

Chaddsford learned of the default judgment only when its bank notified the homeowners’ association that $75,000 had been withdrawn from its account via a post-judgment writ of garnishment the law firm had obtained through the court.

According to Curry’s findings, Parris had collected $8,830 in fees from Chaddsford based on a rate of $300 per hour for services he did not perform.

Parris’ “billing entries were knowingly false and intended to conceal (his) failure to defend Chaddsford in the litigation,” Curry wrote.

Parris also never offered to repay his client, who filed a complaint against him with the Attorney Grievance Commission, which investigated.

During the investigation, Parris did not respond to any of the four letters bar counsel sent seeking his response to the allegations. Parris also declined to contact bar counsel after telling a commission investigator in person that he would, Curry found.

In all, the high court said Parris violated conduct rules pertaining to competence, diligence, fees, expediting litigation, candor toward the court, fairness to the opposing party and disciplinary matters.

“(T)o safeguard the public from future harm and to protect its perception of the legal community at large, we conclude that disbarment is the appropriate sanction for Parris’s flagrant and persistent MARPC violations,” Eaves wrote.

The Supreme Court issued its decision in Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Keith Anthony Parris, Misc. Docket AG No. 22 September Term 2021.