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Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Harmon

Court of Appeals of Maryland

October 21, 2013

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland
v.
Anthony Maurice Harmon

Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No.: CAE-12-07689

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

OPINION

McDonald, J.

The Attorney Grievance Commission ("Commission") charged Anthony Maurice Harmon with violating several provisions of the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct ("MLRPC"), including MLRPC 1.3 (duty to act with reasonable diligence and promptness), MLRPC 1.4 (duty to inform and consult with client and comply with requests for information), MLRPC 1.5(a) (prohibition against unreasonable fees), MLRPC 1.15 (duty to keep safe funds of clients or third parties), MLRPC 8.1(b) (duty to respond to lawful demand for information from disciplinary authority), and MLRPC 8.4(d) (prohibition against conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice). The alleged violations all arose during Mr. Harmon's representation of three clients.

Pursuant to Maryland Rules 16-752(a) and 16-757, we referred the matter to Judge Toni E. Clarke of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County to conduct a hearing and to provide findings of facts and recommended conclusions of law. Based on the facts concerning the violations that were deemed admitted and the evidence concerning mitigation presented at the hearing, the hearing judge concluded that Mr. Harmon had violated MLRPC 1.3, 1.4, 1.5(a), and 8.1(b), and that no mitigating circumstances existed.[1] No exceptions were filed by either party to the hearing judge's findings and conclusions.

We cannot say that the hearing judge's findings of fact were clearly erroneous; those findings, though summary in nature, lead inexorably to the conclusion that Mr. Harmon committed the violations found by the hearing judge. In the absence of any exceptions, our task is to determine the appropriate sanction in this case. Bar Counsel recommends that Mr. Harmon be indefinitely suspended for his violations, while Mr. Harmon urges us to consider suspension for a definite period to run concurrently with the sanction that was recently imposed for his prior violations.[2] For the reasons stated below, we agree with Bar Counsel that an indefinite suspension is in order.

Procedural History

On August 9, 2012, pursuant to the parties' request, the hearing judge postponed the evidentiary hearing until October 18, 2012.[3] At the August proceeding, she also ruled that the facts in Bar Counsel's Request for Admission would be deemed admitted because Mr. Harmon's Answer to the Request for Admission was unresponsive, it was not filed within 30 days as required under Maryland Rule 2-424(b), and he did not file a request for an extension of time.[4] See Maryland Rule 2-424(c) ("If the court determines that an answer does not comply with the requirements of this Rule, it may order either that the matter is admitted or that an amended answer be served.").

The evidentiary hearing on October 18, 2012 was devoted solely to the existence of mitigating circumstances and the Commission's allegation that Mr. Harmon had failed to respond to Bar Counsel's lawful requests for information during its investigations. Jeffrey Janofsky, M.D., an expert in the area of forensic psychiatry, and Investigator William Ramsey testified on behalf of the Commission. Mr. Harmon testified that difficulties in his personal life and the resulting emotional turmoil constituted mitigating factors, but did not call character witnesses or offer expert testimony or documentation.

Background

Mr. Harmon was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1999. During the time period relevant to this proceeding, he maintained an office in Prince George's County. The alleged violations stem from the complaints of three clients concerning his representation of them. The hearing judge deemed the facts described below to be admitted as to those matters, and made additional findings concerning Mr. Harmon's failure to cooperate with Bar Counsel and the lack of mitigating circumstances.

The Christian Complaint

In August 2008, Alexis Christian paid $2, 500 to retain Mr. Harmon to represent her in an uncontested divorce and a related marital property settlement. Subsequently, she paid additional funds for costs and filing fees.

During his representation, Mr. Harmon failed to adequately inform Ms. Christian concerning the terms of the fee agreement and the manner in which the fee would be calculated; failed to keep her informed regarding the accrual of fees; and charged her an unreasonable and excessive fee. He also failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in obtaining service of process on her husband, pursuing the divorce on her behalf, and responding to her requests for information. After Ms. Christian filed a complaint with the Commission, he failed to respond to Bar Counsel's demands for information – in particular, an accounting of the fees he charged Ms. Christian. The Lawrence Complaint

On or about July 20, 2007, Steven Lawrence retained Mr. Harmon to represent him in a divorce and related child custody and support matter. Mr. Lawrence signed a retainer agreement, agreeing to pay a $2, 500 retainer fee and $200 per hour for Mr. Harmon's services. He paid the retainer fee in installments over the next two and one-half ...


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