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Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Geesing

Court of Appeals of Maryland

December 3, 2013

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND
v.
GEORGE JACOB GEESING

Circuit Court for Montgomery County Case No. 27998-M.

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

OPINION

WATTS, J.,

This attorney discipline proceeding concerns a Maryland attorney who "robo-signed" a large number of documents in foreclosure filings.[1]

George Jacob Geesing ("Geesing"), Respondent, a member of the Bar of Maryland, routinely authorized two non-lawyer members of the staff of what is now BWW Law Group, LLC ("BWW Law") to sign his name on documents–including affidavits–in foreclosure filings. Geesing instructed the staff members (who were also notaries public) to notarize the affidavits, even though he had not signed them. After learning of allegations that the affidavits had been falsely notarized, Geesing reported himself to the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland ("the Commission"), Petitioner.

On September 6, 2012, in this Court, Bar Counsel filed a "Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action" against Geesing, charging him with violating Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct ("MLRPC") 3.3 (Candor Toward the Tribunal), 5.1 (Responsibilities of Partners, Managers, and Supervisory Lawyers), 5.3 (Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants), and 8.4 (Misconduct).

On September 13, 2012, we referred this attorney discipline proceeding to the Honorable Louise G. Scrivener ("the hearing judge") of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. On March 3, 2013, the hearing judge conducted a hearing. On April 2, 2013, the hearing judge filed, in this Court, an opinion including findings of fact and concluding that Geesing violated MLRPC 3.3(a)(1), 5.3(a), 8.4(a), and 8.4(d), but did not violate 8.4(c).[2]

On October 31, 2013, we heard oral argument. For the below reasons, we suspend Geesing from the practice of law in Maryland for ninety days.

I. Hearing Judge's Findings of Fact

In her opinion, the hearing judge found the following facts, [3] which we summarize.

On December 15, 1988, this Court admitted Geesing to the Bar of Maryland. On April 1, 1996, Geesing co-founded a law firm called Bierman & Geesing, LLC, which is now BWW Law. In August 2008, Geesing began managing BWW Law's foreclosure practice in Maryland. Since then, Geesing has been the attorney of record in all of BWW Law's foreclosure filings.

A. Robo-Signing

Typically, members of BWW Law other than Geesing prepared documents to be included in foreclosure filings. Geesing reviewed all such documents for accuracy. Routinely, Geesing authorized one of two non-lawyer members of BWW Law's staff to sign his name on the documents, including affidavits. Geesing instructed the staff members (who were also notaries public) to notarize the affidavits, even though he had not signed them. Geesing believed that, because he adopted the signatures as his own, it was legal to authorize the staff members to sign documents in foreclosure filings. Between August 2008 and November 2009, the two members of BWW Law's staff signed Geesing's name on nearly every document in BWW Law's foreclosure filings.[4]

In November 2009, in five foreclosure actions in which BWW Law represented the mortgagees, the mortgagors filed motions to stay or dismiss. The mortgagors alleged that the affidavits in BWW Law's foreclosure filings were: (1) falsely notarized; and (2) not signed by Geesing. Within two days of receiving the five motions to stay or dismiss, Geesing met with a lawyer who had experience in representing lawyers in attorney discipline proceedings. After the meeting with the lawyer, Geesing no longer believed that it was legal to authorize the staff members to sign documents in foreclosure filings. Through the lawyer, Geesing reported himself to the Commission.

On November 18, 2009, Geesing e-mailed every member of BWW Law's staff, stating that he would no longer robo-sign, i.e., authorize others to sign and notarize his name on documents in foreclosure filings. Since then, BWW Law has banned robo-signing, as stated in BWW Law's current employee handbook.

Geesing informed the mortgagees of the motions to stay or dismiss. Geesing recommended that the mortgagees allow BWW Law–at its own expense–to dismiss the foreclosure actions and re-file each with documents that he had signed. The mortgagees consented, and–at a cost of approximately $2, 500 per action–BWW Law dismissed the foreclosure actions and re-filed each with documents that Geesing had signed.

Geesing identified approximately 2, 500 open foreclosure actions in which BWW Law represented the mortgagees. Geesing contacted each mortgagee to recommend that the mortgagee allow BWW Law–at its own expense–to file a "corrective affidavit" in which Geesing averred that he did not sign the documents in the foreclosure filing, but that the documents in the foreclosure filing were otherwise substantively accurate. Geesing informed the Commission of his plan to file corrective affidavits. The mortgagees consented to Geesing's plan, and–from November 2009 through March 2010, at a total cost ...


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