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Attorney Grievance Com'n of Maryland v. Worthy

Court of Appeals of Maryland

January 30, 2014

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND
v.
Michael Ron WORTHY.

Page 114

James P. Botluk, Assistant Bar Counsel (Glenn M. Grossman, Bar Counsel, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland), for Petitioner.

William C. Brennan, Esquire (Greenbelt, MD), for Respondent.

Argued before BARBERA, C.J., HARRELL, BATTAGLIA, GREENE, ADKINS, McDONALD and WATTS, JJ.

BATTAGLIA, J.

[436 Md. 635] Michael Ron Worthy, Respondent, was admitted to the Bar of this Court on December 19, 1996. On March 14, 2012, the Attorney Grievance Commission, acting through Bar Counsel (" Bar Counsel" ), pursuant to Maryland Rule 16-751(a),[1] filed a " Petition For Disciplinary or Remedial Action" (" Petition" ) against Worthy, charging various violations of the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct, to include Rule 8.4(b), (c) and (d) (Misconduct).[2]

The factual bases of these charges arose out of Worthy's failure to file federal personal income tax returns for 2006 and 2007. Bar Counsel alleged that Worthy " willfully failed to file federal income tax returns for the years 2006 and 2007, resulting in a tax loss of at least $70,000." The Petition also alleged that Worthy " pleaded guilty to two counts of failure to file tax returns in the [U.S.] District Court of Maryland" [3] and [436 Md. 636] at the time of the Petition filing, Worthy was " scheduled to

Page 115

be sentenced on those charges on March 22, 2012." In an Order dated March 13, 2012, we referred the matter to Judge Graydon S. McKee, III, of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County for a hearing, pursuant to Rule 16-757.[4]

[436 Md. 637] On March 22, 2012, Judge Roger W. Titus of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland sentenced Worthy to six months' incarceration followed by one year of supervised release. Worthy reported to serve his sentence in May of 2012.

After his release in October of 2012, Worthy was served with process in this case in January of 2013. He then filed a Response to the Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action, admitting that he had been convicted of two counts of willful failure to file but denying that he had violated any Rule of Professional Conduct. At the subsequent hearing, Bar Counsel and Worthy submitted a Joint Statement of Stipulated Facts and four Joint Exhibits. [5] Worthy requested and garnered [436 Md. 638] the opportunity to provide mitigation through

Page 116

his own testimony, as well as in letters from four judges in which they favorably addressed Worthy's character, after they had been duly served with subpoenas.[6]

Judge McKee issued written Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in which he determined that Worthy violated Rules 8.4(b) and (d), but did not violate Rule 8.4(c):

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

The Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland filed a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action against the Respondent, Michael Ron Worthy, Esquire, in the Court of Appeals of Maryland on March 5, 2012, alleging that he committed professional misconduct by willfully failing to file his federal income tax returns for two years (2006 and 2007). The Court of Appeals assigned this matter to this Court on March 13, 2012, to conduct a trial of this matter. Respondent was served with process in January 2013, and filed an Answer on or about February 6, 2013.
The Court conducted the trial on March 11 and April 12, 2013. At the March 11 hearing, the parties submitted an [436 Md. 639] agreed statement of facts and several exhibits. Respondent testified at the April 12 hearing and submitted several letters from judges regarding his character.

FINDINGS OF FACT

The Court finds that the following facts have been proven by clear and convincing evidence:
Michael Ron Worthy was admitted to the Bar of the Court of Appeals of Maryland on December 19, 1996. After his admission to the Bar, he worked as an Assistant State's Attorney in Prince George's County before establishing a law firm (Williams Worthy, LLP) in 2000. By 2006, Mr. Worthy also operated a real estate office (Esquire One) and managed several rental properties. During this time period, the law firm of Williams Worthy had approximately 14 employees while the real estate firm of Esquire One had a similar number of real estate agents. The law firm, the real estate company and the rental properties all had numerous and separate business records and bank accounts. Mr. Worthy was not very familiar with all of the accounting procedures that

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were necessary to run a real estate brokerage business and a law firm. His law partner, in fact, managed the books and records of the law firm.
Mr. Worthy did not timely file federal tax returns for the years of 2006 and 2007. During the period of time when those returns were due, Mr. Worthy had lost some of his financial records and had to order additional bank records. Those records were insufficient to adequately prepare the returns. Mr. Worthy worked with his personal CPA to accurately prepare his tax returns. However, the tax returns were not timely filed. Mr. Worthy understood his legal obligation to file returns or obtain an extension of time. He did not file an extension request for either year. Mr. Worthy did not attempt to evade responsibility for his conduct. Mr. Worthy testified that, " It was totally my responsibility to understand what the tax laws are. I am a lawyer."
[436 Md. 640] The United States Attorney brought criminal charges against Mr. Worthy. On July 7, 2010, Mr. Worthy pleaded guilty in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland in Criminal No. RWT-10-253 to two counts of willful failure to file federal tax returns in violation of 26 U.S.C. ยง 7203. On March 22, 2012, Mr. Worthy was sentenced to six months incarceration and served his sentence from May through October of 2012. During his period of incarceration, Mr. Worthy did not engage in the practice of law.
In his plea agreement, Mr. Worthy acknowledged that he owed at least $70,000 in federal taxes for those two years. Mr. Worthy was not charged with tax fraud or tax evasion, and there is no allegation that he committed those offenses. Mr. Worthy is working with the Internal Revenue Service to arrange a payment plan.
In addition, Mr. Worthy has taken steps to ensure that his books and records are properly maintained and that his taxes are timely filed. He has taken courses involving taxation, hired a full-time accounting person for his office and meets once a month with his outside accountant. He no longer runs a real estate brokerage firm and has lost all of his investment properties. Mr. Worthy now just practices law in a sole practice firm.
Four Judges of the Seventh Judicial Circuit of Maryland submitted letters regarding Mr. Worthy's character. The Honorable Hassan A. El-Amin described Mr. Worthy as having been " an up-front, no nonsense prosecutor" who always kept his word. When Mr. Worthy later appeared before Judge El-Amin when in private practice, his clients were always well-represented. Mr. Worthy was particularly knowledgeable about Fourth Amendment issues. Judge El-Amin also noted that Mr. Worthy had excelled at training young attorneys and that he was very supportive of the J. Franklyn Bourne Bar Association. He opined that Mr. Worthy " is a man of good— and in some respects— outstanding, character." The Honorable Melanie Shaw Geter has known Mr. Worthy approximately twenty years. She [436 Md. 641] notes that Mr. Worthy was always honest with the court in his interactions and that she did not believe he is a deceitful person. The Honorable C. Philip Nichols, Jr. expressed a high regard for Mr. Worthy and noted that he never ...

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