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Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Howell

Court of Appeals of Maryland

August 21, 2013

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND
v.
SHERRIE T. HOWELL

Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 24-C-10-001698

Barbera, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, [*] Bell, [*] Murphy, JJ.

OPINION

Bell, C.J.

The Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland ("the petitioner"), acting through Bar Counsel and pursuant to Maryland Rule 16-751 (a), [1] filed a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action against Sherrie T. Howell, ("the respondent"). The petitioner alleged that the respondent violated Rules 8.1, [2] Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters, and 8.4, [3] Misconduct, of the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct ("MLRPC"), as adopted by Maryland Rule 16-812.

Pursuant to Maryland Rule 16-752 (a), we referred the Petition to the Honorable Videtta A. Brown of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City for the evidentiary hearing required by Maryland Rule 16-757.[4] Following that evidentiary hearing, Judge Brown issued Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law pursuant to Maryland Rule 16-757 (c)[5]:

Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

"The respondent was originally admitted to the Bar of the Court of Appeals of Maryland on December 17, 1992 and maintains an office for the practice of law at 2122 Maryland Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21218. The Respondent represented Dayvon Gardner (hereinafter "Mr. Gardner")[, ] an inmate at Maryland Correctional Institution at Hagerstown (hereinafter "MCIH"), but did not represent him in the case that led to his incarceration at MCIH. Mr. Gardner, a member of the Bloods (gang), is currently serving a sentence for murder.

"On or about January 12, 2009, the Respondent forwarded mail to Mr. Gardner . The envelope, in which the Respondent sent the mail to Mr. Gardner, contained a return address that identified the Respondent as an 'Attorney at Law." ... A letter the Respondent wrote to Mr. Gardner, included in the envelope, was written on Respondent's letterhead. Respondent's letter and some enclosures related to her earlier representation of Mr. Gardner in connection with physical injuries he sustained while in custody in 2008. ... Sgt. Daniel Colgan, correctional officer at MCIH, delivered what he believed to be legal mail to Mr. Gardner. Legal mail includes mail from attorneys. The envelope contained postage stamps and correspondence from Adrian Outten (hereinafter referred to as "AO"), an inmate incarcerated for a violent crime in another Maryland Institution. ... The envelope also contained docket entries of other defendants from the Maryland Case Search database and a letter from "Tizzy, " an individual previously incarcerated in a Maryland Institution. The envelope the Respondent forwarded to Mr. Gardner contained illegal contraband (postage stamps and letter from AO) pursuant to MCIH prison policy.

"Respondent admits that the letters were sent at the request of both Tizzy and AO. The Respondent also admits that she knew the letters were contraband. On February 17, 2009, the Respondent wrote to Kathleen McLaughlin, Bar Counsel, of the Attorney Grievance Commission, ... and addressed the allegations. She says, in part:

'With regard to the letters, I believed that they were from cousins/relatives of Mr. Gardner that was incarcerated in other facilities. In that inmates are not allowed to write to one another directly (mail from one correctional facility to another), I was asked to forward them to Mr. Gardner.... It was poor judgment and a bad decision on my part to do so and I recognize that....'

"On April 30, 2009, Respondent was interviewed by Inspector William Ramsey of the Attorney Grievance Commission in regards to the contents of the mail sent to Mr. Gardner. The Respondent said that when she forwarded the mail to Mr. Gardner, in early January 2009, she was not representing Mr. Gardner as an attorney but was helping him with a literary enterprise.[1] Respondent admitted that she taped the letters to the back of the docket entries and regretted doing so. In the interview she did not admit to taping the stamps to the back of the docket entries. (Respondent testified that she could have (emphasis added) taped the stamps to the back of the docket entries). Respondent testified that she did not know that the stamps were considered contraband.

"Respondent testified that Mr. Gardner requested the docket entries and that she did not know these individuals or their cases. Additionally, Respondent testified that she only scanned the contents of the letter from AO and that she sent it because AO requested that she send it in a cover letter which was later destroyed.

"Subsequent to January 2009, Mr. Gardner continued to correspond with the Respondent. He forwarded mail to the Respondent on at least four different occasions. In his correspondence, Mr. Gardner sought information about other individuals, some of whom were incarcerated, as well as information concerning a correctional officer. The Respondent did not receive these letters and therefore did not reply to the requests.

"CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

"This court makes the following conclusions of law based on the above stated facts.

"Rule 8.4 (Misconduct)

"The Petitioner alleges that the Respondent violated [MLRPC] 8.1 and 8.4 (a), (b), (c) and (d) when she forwarded inmate correspondence to Mr. Gardner, who is an inmate at MCIH and taping the letters and the postage stamps to the back of legal documents, i.e. docket entries. Contraband is prohibited under MCIH prison ...


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