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Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Hunt

Court of Appeals of Maryland

October 1, 2013

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND
v.
MARK EDWARD HUNT

Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No.: 24-C-1200-1481.

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

OPINION

BELL, C.J. (Retired).

Prior to being admitted to the bar of the State of Maryland on June 16, 2009, Mark Edward Hunt, the respondent, was, and had been since 1996, a Revenue Officer with the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"). While so employed, he engaged in criminal activity with an individual named Irvin Hannis Catlett, Jr., who operated a business called Tax Resolutions, Inc., a vehicle for tax evasion. Through this business, individual income tax returns showing "bogus" tax losses from a purported car leasing and sales company were prepared and filed. In exchange for monetary payments, the respondent provided Catlett with confidential taxpayer information. He also permitted Catlett to introduce him to his clients as Catlett's "man on the inside" of the IRS, thus assuring Catlett's clients and potential clients "that the tax returns to be prepared by Catlett's company . . . would not be the subject of adverse IRS actions." The respondent knew when he engaged in the criminal conduct that it was wrong, and he has admitted as much.[1] Indeed, he plead guilty on September 8, 2010 to, and was sentenced on June 26, 2011 for, the unauthorized disclosure of return and return information in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7213 (a) (1).[2]

The respondent finished law school in 1993, and subsequently took the Maryland bar examination multiple times without success. In order to take the examination, he had first to file a Bar Application, which was good for 5 years before having to be renewed. The respondent filed a new Bar Application in 2005. Question 17 on that application inquired:

"Have there been any circumstances or unfavorable incidents in your life, whether at school, college, law school, business or otherwise, which may have a bearing upon your character or your fitness to practice law, not called for by the questions contained in this questionnaire or disclosed in your answers?
"If so, give full details, including any assertions or implication of dishonesty, misconduct, misrepresentation, financial irresponsibility, and disciplinary measures imposed (if any) by attaching a supplement[al] statement . . . ."

The respondent answered that question, "no." The information about his criminal activity over a five-year period while he was an Internal Revenue Service agent, was material to the determination of the respondent's qualification to practice law, and its disclosure would have been responsive to question 17.

The respondent passed the February 2009 bar examination. Several months earlier, at the end of October 2008, after an interview with a federal agent, Catlett had learned that criminal charges against him were imminent. That was confirmed by his lawyer shortly after he received his bar examination results. He advised the respondent that he would be prosecuted if the United States Attorney "decided that such a course of action would be in the best interests of the government." Notwithstanding this knowledge and despite having committed, in his 2005 application, [3] to do so in writing should there be "any changes in the information disclosed in or sought by this questionnaire, including any pertinent facts developed after the initial filing of this application and the facts of any incident occurring subsequent to the initial filing of this application, " the respondent did not supplement the application in regard to his criminal activities with Mr. Catlett or the impending prosecution by the federal government.

The respondent did supplement his application, by letter dated April 6, 2009, as to a December 31, 2007 breaking and entering charge that was entered "nolle prosequi." Thereafter, the respondent, on May 3, 2009, signed and sent to the Maryland Board of Law Examiners his Affirmation Form, affirming under penalties of perjury that "no changes had taken place with respect to his personal situation which would reflect unfavorably on his qualifications to be admitted to the Maryland Bar." Nor did the respondent inform Robert Ferguson, Esq., the Character Committee member who conducted his character investigation, of his criminal activities between 1999 and 2004 or that criminal charges against him were being contemplated by the United States Attorney's office. Had he done so, Mr. Ferguson would not have recommended him for admission.

The respondent was indicted on March 10, 2010.[4] Thereafter, he, acting through his criminal counsel, informed the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland ("the petitioner") that he had been indicted. The petitioner, acting through Bar Counsel and pursuant to Maryland Rule 16-751 (a), [5] filed a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action against the respondent. The petitioner alleged that the respondent violated Rules 8.1, Bar Admissions and Disciplinary Matters, [6] and 8.4, Misconduct, [7] 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 Michael W. Reed of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, for the evidentiary hearing required by Maryland Rule 16-757.[8] Following that evidentiary hearing, Judge Reed issued, pursuant to Maryland Rule 16-757 (c), [9] the Findings of Fact set out above. From those findings of fact, he concluded that the respondent violated MLRPC 8.1 (a) and (b) and 8.4 (b), (c), and (d).

With regard to the MLRPC 8.1 (b) violation, Judge Reed, having determined that the information concerning the respondent's criminal activities from 1999 to 2004 was material, as it would have impacted the admission authority's assessment of his qualification to practice law, [10] concluded that the violation was shown by his failure to disclose that information in the first instance when he submitted his application, as well as by his failure to update his application as required and to which he had agreed. That failure of disclosure, both when the application was submitted and later, during the time of its pendency, was intentional, Judge Reed also concluded, citing the respondent's choice, which Judge Reed characterized as "purposeful and artful, " "to disclose only the criminal activity that he did not believe would impact negatively on his Bar Application, that is, the criminal matter that resulted in a nolle prosequi" and the lack of a plausible explanation for the non-disclosure "other than that he 'forgot.'"[11]

The respondent's signing and submitting of the Affirmation Form, in which he affirmed that the status quo ante remained the case as of the date of its submission, is the basis for Judge Reed's conclusion that the ...


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