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Attorney Grievance Com'n of Maryland v. Lewis

Court of Appeals of Maryland

February 27, 2014

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND
v.
Glenn Charles LEWIS.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Lydia E. Lawless, Assistant Bar Counsel (Glenn M. Grossman, Bar Counsel, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland), for petitioner.

No argument on behalf of respondent.

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

ADKINS, J.

[437 Md. 312] Petitioner, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland (" AGC" ), acting through

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Bar Counsel, filed a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action (" Petition" ) against Respondent, Glenn Charles Lewis. Bar Counsel alleged that Lewis, in connection with his representation of Lee-Ann Slosser, engaged in professional misconduct as defined by Maryland Rule 16-701(i) and violated the following Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct (" MLRPC" ), as adopted by Maryland Rule 16-812: (1)Rule 1.1 (Competence); (2) Rule 1.3 (Diligence); (3) Rule 1.4 (Communication); (4) Rule 1.5 (Fees); (5) Rule 1.15 (Safekeeping Property); (6) Rule 1.16 (Declining or Terminating Representation); (7) Rule 8.1 (Bar [437 Md. 313] Admission and Disciplinary Matters); (8) Rule 8.4(a), (b), (c), and (d) (Misconduct); and (9) Maryland Rule 16-606.1 (Attorney trust account record-keeping). Following a hearing before the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, the hearing judge found that Lewis violated all of these rules, with the exception of Rule 8.4(b), which charge the AGC dropped after the hearing.

THE HEARING JUDGE'S CONCLUSIONS

The disciplinary hearing was held before a judge of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. Petitioner's counsel appeared and presented evidence. Lewis failed to appear. The hearing judge made the following findings of fact based upon clear and convincing evidence:

Background
Respondent was admitted to the Bar of the State of Maryland on January 12, 2000. Respondent was admitted to the Bar of the State of Virginia on September 23, 1977 and the District of Columbia on May 26, 1978. Respondent was placed on interim suspension from the Virginia Bar on December 27, 2011 for failure to respond to a Bar Counsel subpoena. In March 2012, Respondent was administratively suspended from the Virginia Bar for non-compliance with CLE requirements.

For many years, Respondent maintained a practice, The Lewis Law Firm, in the District of Columbia focusing on family law. Respondent abandoned his law practice in the fall of 2011. On December 29, 2011, Respondent and his wife filed a Petition for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.

Representation of Lee-Ann Slosser
On January 11, 2011, Kenneth Slosser, through his attorney Wendy H. Schwartz, Esquire, filed a Complaint for Limited Divorce in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County naming his wife, Lee-Ann Slosser as defendant ( Slosser v. Slosser Case No. 91547FL). On January 30, 2011, Ms. Slosser retained Respondent and his firm, The Lewis Law [437 Md. 314] Firm, PC, to represent her. Ms. Slosser paid a retainer agreement in the amount of $60,000. On March 25, 2011, the Respondent filed Defendant's Answer and Counter-Claim for Limited Divorce.
On April 26, 2011, Respondent and one of his associates, Nupur S. Bal, Esquire, appeared on behalf of Ms. Slosser at a scheduling conference. Ms. Bal is a member of the District of Columbia bar and was admitted pro hac vice by consent order dated June 1, 2011. The consent order provided that the Respondent's presence may be waived for any proceeding. By order dated June 1, 2011 the parties were directed to attend mediation. On August 19, 2011 both parties filed pretrial statements.
Following the filing of the initial pleadings, the parties exchanged written discovery and designated expert witnesses. There were some discovery disputes which resulted in the filing of a

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motion for sanctions by Ms. Schwartz based on Respondent's complete failure to provide responses to written discovery, and a motion to compel by Respondent. Respondent never filed an opposition or response to Ms. Schwartz's motion for sanctions. Both motions were set for hearing to be held on October 12, 2011.
On September 23, 2011, the parties attended mediation. Mr. Slosser was present with Ms. Schwartz and Ms. Slosser was present with Respondent. On September 23, 2011, Respondent appeared one half hour late for mediation.
On September 24, 2011, the parties appeared for the second day of mediation. Respondent failed to appear without providing any explanation or prior notice to Ms. Slosser. Ms. Slosser did not consent to Respondent's failure to appear at the second day of mediation. Ms. Bal appeared in his place and an oral settlement agreement was reached. Following mediation, the parties, through counsel were [able] to reduce the terms of the settlement to writing.
On or about October 5, 2011, Ms. Bal left the Lewis Law Firm. By Line filed October 5, 2011, Ms. Bal withdrew from Ms. Slosser's case. By Joint Line filed October 11, 2011, the [437 Md. 315] parties withdrew the pending discovery motions. The Joint Line was signed by Ms. Bal rather than Respondent.
Ms. Schwartz prepared a draft settlement agreement which was sen[t] to Respondent by email on October 13, 2011. Respondent, without explanation, waited until October 20, 2011 to contact Ms. Slosser regarding the draft settlement agreement. As of October 20, 2011, the Respondent had not read the settlement agreement. On October 20, 2011, Ms. Slosser and the Respondent reached an agreement about specific points and concerns in the settlement agreement to be raised with Ms. Schwartz. On October 20, 2011, Respondent promised Ms. Slosser that he would contact Ms. Schwartz the following day to finalize the settlement agreement. Time was of the essence as trial was still scheduled for November 14, 2011. As of October 24, 2011, the Respondent had failed to contact Ms. Schwartz and sent a " draft" email to Ms. Slosser directed to Ms. Schwartz for approval. The draft email was inflammatory and directly contradictory to Ms. Slosser's wishes as expressed in the October 20 telephone call. Additionally, the draft email contained inaccurate information. The draft email accused Ms. Schwartz and her associate of delay and intentionally failing to send a schedule to the agreement. By email dated October 24, 2011, Ms. Slosser pointed out that the missing schedule contained information already negotiated by Mr. and Ms. Slosser. The draft email was written by the Respondent to delay; as of October 24, 2011, the Respondent had not made the changes to the draft settlement agreement as requested by Ms. Slosser and agreed to by the Respondent.
On October 26, 2011, Ms. Slosser and the Respondent had a telephone conversation. During the October 26 conversation, the Respondent revealed that he had not yet spoken to Ms. Schwartz or made any changes to the draft settlement agreement. Ms. Slosser became upset with the Respondent and instructed him to immediately edit the draft settlement agreement as he had represented he would. The Respondent assured Ms. Slosser that he would edit the draft [437 Md. 316] settlement agreement and send his edits to her for review. The Respondent never sent Ms. Slosser any edits to the draft settlement agreement. Instead, on October 26, 2011, Respondent

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emailed Ms. Schwartz claiming to have devoted " considerable effort" to his revisions and promising his revisions would be provided to her the following day. The Respondent forwarded his October 26, 2011 email to Ms. Schwartz to Ms. Slosser claiming, inter alia, that he would continue to " work hard." On October 27, 2011, Respondent failed to provide an edited draft settlement agreement to either Ms. Slosser or Ms. Schwartz. Ms. Slosser did not receive any communication from the Respondent until October 31, 2011. On October 31, 2011, the Respondent emailed Ms. Slosser and stated that he would " be in touch." On October 31, 2011, the Respondent also emailed Ms. Schwartz and again promised that his revisions to the draft settlement agreement would be provided later that day. Following October 31, Ms. Slosser attempted to contact the Respondent at both his office and on his cellular phone. The mailboxes for both phones were " full" and would not accept messages.
Between October 31, 2011 and the scheduled trial date, November 14, 2011, Respondent failed to respond to Ms. Slosser's requests for information and efforts to communicate with him. Ms. Slosser experienced considerable consternation over Respondent's abandonment of her case and was forced to retain new counsel and incur additional attorney's fees.
On or about November 10, 2011, unable to contact Respondent, with a trial date pending and no settlement agreement in place, Ms. Slosser retained Margaret J. McK[i]nney, Esquire. Ms. McK[i]nn[e]y made several efforts to reach Respondent by telephone and email requesting, on behalf of Ms. Slosser, that he sign a line substituting counsel and withdraw from the Slosser matter. Unable to reach Respondent, on November 10, 2011, Ms. McK[i]nney entered her appearance on behalf of Ms. Slosser as co-counsel. Ms. McK[i]nney was able to complete the settlement [437 Md. 317] agreement for Ms. Slosser and, by judgment dated March 16, 2012, Ms. and Mr. Slosser were granted a judgment of absolute divorce.
On November 14, 2011, the scheduled trial date, Ms. Slosser received an email from the Respondent attaching his " final version" of the settlement agreement, acknowledging that Ms. Slosser had retained new counsel, apologizing and acknowledging his delay in editing the settlement agreement. The November 14, [sic] email attempted to minimize the impact of his delay and abandonment on Ms. Slosser and her concern about the pending trial date.
On November 16, 2011, Ms. McKinney emailed the Respondent requesting, on behalf of Ms. Slosser, that he withdraw his appearance from the case and providing hi[m] with a line for his signature. The Respondent never responded to Ms. McKinney's email and never filed a line withdrawing his appearance.
Upon termination of the representation, Respondent failed to take any steps to protect Ms. Slosser's interests. He failed to return her client file and any unearned fee. He abandoned the representation within weeks of the scheduled trial date without finalizing a settlement and failed and refused to file a line withdrawing his appearance.
Between January 30, 2011 and August 31, 2011, Respondent charged Ms. Slosser $201,330 for his services. Based on a review of the court file, Ms. Schwartz ['s] billing records and the Respondent's billing records the court finds that the fees charged by the Respondent were unreasonable.

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At the outset of the representation, Ms. Slosser paid the Respondent a $60,000 retainer fee. Respondent failed to deposit and maintain Ms. Slosser's funds in trust until earned and failed to create records as required by the Maryland Rules reflecting the receipt, maintenance and disbursement of Complainant's funds. Respondent misappropriated funds belonging to Ms. Slosser for his personal benefit.
[437 Md. 318]Bar Counsel Investigation
On January 17, 2012, Bar Counsel received Ms. Slosser's complaint regarding the Respondent. On February 10, 2012, Bar Counsel forwarded a copy of Ms. Slosser's complaint to Respondent and requested a written response within fifteen (15) days. The February 10 letter was sent to Respondent's address listed with the Client Protection Fund. On March 15, 2012, no response having been received, Bar Counsel sent a second letter to Respondent at the address listed with the Client Protection Fund by certified mail return receipt. The March 15 letter enclosed the complaint and the February 10 letter and requested a written response within ten (10) days.
On May 1, 2012, Robert C. Versis, Investigator for the Petitioner, contacted the Respondent by telephone. The Respondent informed Mr. Versis that he was currently receiving mail at his home address and provided same to Mr. Versis. On May 2, 2012, no response having been received to the March 15 letter, Bar Counsel sent a letter by certified mail return receipt, restricted delivery to Respondent's home address. The May 2 letter enclosed the previous letters and was received by " Cara Lewis" on May 5, 2012. As of May 5, 2012, Cara Lewis resided at the Respondent's residence. The May 2, 2012 letter requested a written response to the complaint as well as a copy of Ms. Slosser's file and all records created and maintained by Respondent pursuant to Maryland Rule 16-606.1 for the receipt and disbursement of Ms. Slosser's funds. The information was to be provided to Bar Counsel no later than May 16, 2012.
No response having been received, Mr. Versis attempted to contact the Respondent by telephone on May 18, 21, 22, 23, 25 and 29, 2012 and by email on May 22, 2012. The Respondent did not respond to Mr. Versis's email or voicemail message. On May 30, 2012, no response having been received to Bar Counsel's letter of May 2, 2012, Mr. Versis personally served Respondent at his home with copies of the [437 Md. 319] complaint and letters of February 10, March 15 and May 2, 2012. Respondent failed to provide any written response to Bar Counsel.

From these facts, the hearing judge found that Lewis violated the following rules:

Rule 1.1. Competence.
MLRPC 1.1 provides: " A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation."
Respondent violated Rule 1.1 when he failed to act with the required thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation of Ms. Slosser as ...

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