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Montgomery County lawyer indefinitely suspended for ‘obstructive conduct’ in divorce case

Madeleine O'Neill//March 3, 2023

Montgomery County lawyer indefinitely suspended for ‘obstructive conduct’ in divorce case

By Madeleine O'Neill

//March 3, 2023

Maryland’s top court has indefinitely suspended a Montgomery County lawyer for obstructing a contentious divorce case and making misleading statements about the proceedings to judges and opposing counsel.

The lawyer, Richard L. Sloane, will be allowed to apply for reinstatement after six months.

In a 38-page opinion, Justice Michele D. Hotten found that Sloane’s behavior “hindered and delayed the litigation” in the divorce and custody case “without any substantive purpose.”

According to the opinion, Sloane represented a man in a divorce proceeding that his wife initiated in January 2018. Sloane failed to provide responses by the discovery deadline, prompting the court to order responses following a motion to compel from the wife’s lawyer.

When Sloane provided the discovery materials, they were disorganized and required hours of sorting and indexing by the wife’s lawyer, according to findings from Montgomery County Circuit Judge Bibi M. Berry, who heard Sloane’s attorney grievance case.

Sloane also objected to standard interrogatories and asserted a nonexistent “physician/patient privilege” in the responses. When the husband was deposed in July 2018, Sloane made “baseless objections and speaking objections,” according to the opinion, and encouraged his client to refuse to respond to reasonable questions from opposing counsel.

The wife’s lawyer, Mandy Miliman, ended the deposition after an hour. Miliman responded to Sloane’s discovery requests and declined to schedule a deposition for her client until the husband’s deposition had been completed, leading Sloane to file a competing motion to compel discovery.

At a hearing on the motions, a judge called Sloane’s conduct during the deposition “a complete and total disregard of what the laws say and what the rules say and what the rules governing behavior of lawyers say,” according to the opinion.

During the husband’s second deposition, and despite a judge’s intervention, Sloane made 277 objections, many of which lacked a “discernible basis,” according to the opinion.

The hearing judge also found that Sloane misled opposing counsel about whether the court had approved a continuance and repeatedly misstated the case history to other judges who handled the case. In September 2019, the case settled.

Sloane’s client was repeatedly ordered to pay his wife’s attorney’s fees in response to Sloane’s behavior in the case.

Hotten found that Sloane’s actions violated the Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct related to frivolous or unjustified claims, candor toward the court, fairness to the opposing party, respect for the rights of third parties and delaying the litigation.

Maryland Bar Counsel recommended disbarment as a sanction, while Sloane asked for a six-month suspension or a sanction less severe than disbarment or indefinite suspension.

Hotten concluded an indefinite suspension with the right to apply for reinstatement after six months was appropriate.

“Respondent’s unwillingness or inability to appreciate his wrongful conduct is critical,” the justice wrote. “There is not a single instance in the record where respondent acknowledges his improper behavior.”

Hotten acknowledged that discovery is a “taxing experience” for attorneys and that clashing personalities can “permeate litigation through frivolous motions and vexatious arguments, as respondent participated in here.”

“This behavior is caustic to the legal profession and particularly dangerous to the public when attorneys fail to recognize their misconduct,” she wrote.

But the justice also found that a harsher penalty was not required because Sloane’s misconduct did not involve theft, fraud, misappropriation of funds or harm to a client. The misconduct also involved only one case, Hotten wrote.

Sloane, who was admitted to the Maryland bar in 2003, also has no prior disciplinary record.

Three justices dissented as to the sanction, though they otherwise concurred with Hotten’s opinion.

Justice Brynja M. Booth authored the 5-page dissenting opinion, which Chief Justice Matthew J. Fader and Justice Steven B. Gould joined. Booth argued that Sloane should have received a definite suspension of six months because Bar Counsel failed to prove that Sloane’s client was harmed by his conduct.

Bar Counsel Lydia E. Lawless did not respond to a request for comment by press time. Sloane could not be reached for comment.

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