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Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Patton

Court of Appeals of Maryland

June 27, 2013

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND
v.
RICHARD VALENTINE PATTON, III

Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 24-C-12-003446

Bell, C.J. Harrell Battaglia Greene Adkins Barbera McDonald, JJ.

OPINION

Greene, J.

The Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland ("Petitioner"), acting pursuant to Maryland Rule 16-751(a), [1] filed a "Petition For Disciplinary or Remedial Action" against Richard Valentine Patton, III ("Respondent" or "Patton"), and we referred the case to the Honorable David W. Young, Circuit Court for Baltimore City, to conduct a hearing. On June 12, 2012, Respondent was personally served with the Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action as well as interrogatories and a request for documents relating to his practice of law. When Patton failed to answer the Petition or provide documents twenty-three (23) days after service, [2] Petitioner filed and was granted a Motion for Order of Default.

After Respondent filed his Answer untimely, on or about August 1, 2012, Petitioner filed and was granted a Motion to Vacate Order of Default, Motion to Compel, Motion to Shorten Time to Respond to Petitioner's Motion to Compel, Motion for Mental Examination, and Motion to Shorten Time to Respond to Petitioner's Motion for Mental Examination. A scheduling conference was held on August 23, 2012, where Petitioner and Respondent agreed, on the record, that Respondent would provide Petitioner with discovery documents by Monday, August 27, 2012. When Respondent failed to provide documents as agreed, on August 29, 2012, Petitioner filed a Motion for Sanctions and a Motion to Shorten Time to Respond to Petitioner's Motion for Sanctions. The hearing court granted the Motion to Shorten Time to Respond to Petitioner's Motion for Sanctions and directed Respondent to file a written response within five (5) days.

Judge Young held an evidentiary hearing on September 20, 2012. Petitioner's Motion for Sanctions was also considered and Respondent admitted to failing to respond to Petitioner's request for information and documents. After consideration of arguments from both Petitioner and Respondent and the record in the case, the hearing judge granted Petitioner's Motion for Sanctions. The hearing judge then ordered that, during the disciplinary hearing, Respondent would not be permitted to offer any documents, evidence, or testimony that would contradict the charges in the Petition and that Respondent would only be allowed to testify as to mitigation. Because Respondent has admitted to failing to respond to Petitioner's request for information and documents and did not file a timely answer to Petitioner's complaint, the averments in the complaint are considered admitted.[3]

Based upon, among other things, testimony from a number of witnesses, the hearing judge entered the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.

FINDINGS OF FACT

"Richard Valentine Patton, III . . . has been a member of the Maryland Bar since June 15, 2004." At the time of the underlying incidents, "he maintained a solo law practice in Maryland."

Bar Counsel

In 2010 and 2011 Respondent sublet office space at 11 E. Lexington Street in Baltimore from Harold Weisbaum. Near the end of 2011 Respondent was asked to move out of the office and change his mailing address after he failed to pick up his mail, Respondent's clients came looking for him and it became impossible to reach him by telephone. On December 12, 2011, Mr. Weisbaum contacted the Attorney Grievance Commission. On December 16, 2011, Respondent was directed by Bar Counsel to update his address with the Client Protection Fund and courts where he had entered appearances as well as the firm's website. "Respondent did not change his mailing address with the Client Protection Fund or courts until March of 2012[, ]" and, "[i]n August 2012, communications from Respondent's bank regarding his IOLTA account were still being delivered to 11 E. Lexington Street."

Several times Respondent failed to appear in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County on behalf of clients Danielle N. Kraemer, Andrew R. Lloyd, Kevin R. Jones, and Harry J. Gillis. Respondent was unavailable when repeated attempts were made by clients, opposing counsel, and judges to contact him after he had scheduled court appearances on behalf of clients. Clients would appear in court without counsel and were forced to resolve their cases without the benefit of Respondent's representation – for which they had paid. In the case of Danielle N. Kraemer, where she was hospitalized and unable to appear in court on April 7, 2011 (and had timely notified Respondent), a bench warrant was issued for her arrest after Respondent failed to notify the court of Ms. Kraemer's hospitalization. Ms. Kraemer filed, pro se, a motion to quash the warrant.

In April 2011, the Honorable Susan Souder, one of the judges before whom Respondent had failed to appear, referred him to the Baltimore County Lawyer Assistance Committee. After Judge Souder was advised that Respondent was non-cooperative, both she and the Honorable Thomas Bollinger, another judge before whom Respondent had failed to appear, filed a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission.

On October 19, 2011, when Respondent failed to appear for a second time on behalf of Andrew R. Lloyd in a case before the Honorable John Grason Turnbull, II, Judge Turnbull sent a letter to Respondent requiring him to explain his unexcused absences. When Judge Turnbull received no response from Respondent, Judge Turnbull filed a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission on November 1, 2011. On November 28, 2011, Respondent again failed to appear before Judge Turnbull on behalf of his client Kevin R. Jones, notifying only the State's Attorney's office that he would not appear because of medical reasons.

Respondent was also involved in various criminal offenses during the period he was neglecting his clients' affairs. The hearing judge found that "[o]n April 18, 2011, Respondent was indicted for illegal possession of a firearm, discharging a firearm and possessing a controlled dangerous substance (oxycodone) in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County []." The hearing judge further found that this case resulted in a stet conditioned on Respondent's consent: (1) to the "forfeit[ure of] all interest in any property seized in the execution of the search warrant including any firearms and weapons;" (2) to the completion of a 28-day inpatient and 48 week after care program through the Right Turn Addictions Program; (3) to provide a status update to the State upon completion of the inpatient program and then every other month throughout the after care program, and (4) to remain law abiding.

Respondent did not complete the Right Turn inpatient program, or any other inpatient program, he did not provide any status updates to the State and he did not remain law abiding. In fact, on August 26, 2011, the morning after he agreed to the stet, Respondent was charged with driving negligently and impaired by the consumption of alcohol and drugs. He pled guilty to negligent driving and the State entered a nolle prosequi to the remaining charges. In the five months that followed this incident, Respondent was cited twice (on September 30, 2011 and January 13, 2012) for exceeding the speed limit.

In addition, during the period of December 2011 to June 2012, Respondent was summoned for jury duty in Baltimore County and he failed to return the Jury Qualification Form and appear for jury duty. At a show cause hearing on June 27, 2012, Respondent appeared and was fined $500 to be paid within 30 days. Respondent did not pay the fine.

Michael B. Hendrickson

On June 25, 2010, Mr. Hendrickson signed a retainer agreement with Respondent for a flat fee of $1, 000. Respondent was to represent Mr. Hendrickson in a criminal matter scheduled to be heard in the District Court of Maryland sitting in Anne Arundel County on September 17, 2010. Both Respondent and Mr. Hendrickson appeared in court on September 17, but the case was postponed until December 18, 2010. According to their testimony, between September 17 and the morning of December 18, Mr. Hendrickson or his fiancee, Chrystal Shackelford, called Respondent approximately 30 times and sent him numerous text messages. Patton did not respond until he sent a text message to Ms. Shackelford the morning of December 18 stating that he was in the hospital and would not be appearing in court. Respondent suggested that Mr. Hendrickson ask the court for a postponement. The case was rescheduled for March 18, 2011, and Respondent was advised of the new date. Again, Mr. Hendrickson and Ms. Shackelford, by telephone and text message, attempted to contact Respondent numerous times with no success. Respondent did not appear in court on March 18 and the court had not been offered any reason for his absence. In addition, Mr. Hendrickson learned that Respondent failed to enter his appearance in the case. Additionally, Mr. Hendrickson never received a refund from Respondent.

Mr. Hendrickson filed a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission against Respondent in May 2011. When Respondent received notification about the complaint, he called Mr. Hendrickson and told him that "he should not have filed the complaint, other clients who filed complaints against Respondent did not succeed, and that Mr. Hendrickson should have asked if he wanted a refund." Mr. Hendrickson estimated that his telephone conversations with Respondent amounted to about 4-5 hours of conversation over a period of 20-25 calls. "Respondent did not offer Mr. Hendrickson, Petitioner, or [the hearing] [c]ourt any additional evidence detailing the work performed and time spent on Mr. Hendrickson's case."

Robert A. Tryson

Robert Tryson's fiancee asked Respondent to represent Tryson in a drug possession and conspiracy case in Washington County in November 2010. Mr. Tryson's fiancee paid Respondent $5, 000 by charging it to her credit card.

Respondent and Mr. Tryson met for the first time on November 4, 2010, at which time Mr. Tryson signed a retainer agreement specifying that Respondent would charge him a flat fee of $5, 000. The hearing judge determined that representation for this fee would "include arranging bail, negotiating a plea and/or jurisdiction [sic] . . . through the Preliminary Hearing in the District Court[]" using Respondent's "best efforts." Although Respondent did not explain to Mr. Tryson the purpose of the attorney trust account or that funds in Respondent's operating account were subject to Respondent's creditors, the retainer specified that Mr. Tryson authorized Respondent to place the fee in Respondent's operating account.

The hearing judge noted that Mr. Tryson "was re-arrested [on November 30, 2010] under a sealed indictment in Baltimore County for an incident related to the Washington County arrest." After the arrest Respondent and Mr. Tryson's fiancee exchanged a number of text messages and, on the afternoon of November 30, 2010, Mr. Tryson called Respondent from the detention center and was told that there "was nothing that could be done until Mr. Tryson ...


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