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Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Greenleaf

Court of Appeals of Maryland

May 16, 2014

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND
v.
ROBERT JOHN GREENLEAF

Argued April 8, 2014.

Circuit Court for Kent County. Case No. 14-C-13-009408. Paul M. Bowman, JUDGE.

ARGUED BY: Lydia E. Lawless, Assistant Bar Counsel (Glenn M. Grossman, Bar Counsel, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland) FOR PETITIONER.

ARGUED BY: Robert John Greenleaf FOR RESPONDENT.

ARGUED BEFORE: Barbera, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, JJ. Opinion by Watts, J.

OPINION

Page 1067

[438 Md. 153] Watts, J.

This attorney discipline proceeding concerns a Maryland lawyer who solicited for sexual acts a person whom the lawyer believed to be under the age of consent.

Robert John Greenleaf (" Greenleaf" ), Respondent, while serving as the Chief Deputy Clerk of the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, used the Internet to solicit for sexual acts a law enforcement officer who was posing as a fourteen-year-old or fifteen-year-old girl. Greenleaf's actions came to the attention of the Attorney Grievance Commission (" the Commission" ), Petitioner.

On March 14, 2013, in this Court, Bar Counsel filed a " Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action" against Greenleaf, charging him with violating Maryland Lawyers' Rule of Professional Conduct (" MLRPC" ) 8.4 (Misconduct). On March 18, 2013, this Court assigned this attorney discipline [438 Md. 154] proceeding to the Honorable Paul M. Bowman (" the hearing judge" ) of the Circuit Court for Kent County.

On July 25, 2013, the hearing judge conducted a hearing. On September 19, 2013, the hearing judge filed in this Court an opinion including findings of fact and conclusions of law, concluding that Greenleaf had violated MLRPC 8.4(b) (Criminal Act), 8.4(c) (Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit, or Misrepresentation), 8.4(d) (Conduct Prejudicial to the Administration of Justice), and 8.4(a) (Violating the MLRPC).

On April 8, 2014, we heard oral argument. For the below reasons, we disbar Greenleaf.

BACKGROUND

In his opinion, the hearing judge found the following facts, which we summarize.

On November 8, 1979, this Court admitted Greenleaf to the Bar of Maryland. Between 1987 and 2004, Greenleaf served as an Assistant State's Attorney for Dorchester County, an Assistant State's Attorney for Caroline County, an interim State's Attorney for Caroline County, and a Senior Assistant State's Attorney for Dorchester County. On January 6, 2004, Greenleaf became the Chief Deputy Clerk of the Court of Special Appeals. Greenleaf's office

Page 1068

was located at the Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building.

On March 8, 2010, Detective Sergeant Louis Gary Yamin (" DS Yamin" ) of the Baltimore Police Department was working undercover for the Cyber and Electronic Crimes Unit. DS Yamin had a Yahoo Messenger account with the username " ravens_girl2003," which was connected to a Yahoo profile for a female named " Beth." On March 8, 2010, as " Beth," DS Yamin entered a Yahoo Messenger chat room entitled " Maryland Romance." In the chat room, a person with the username " delmarvan19901" initiated a private chat with " Beth," who almost immediately sent the message " 14/f/balto. md[,]" which is Internet language for identifying oneself as a fourteen-year-old female in the Baltimore area. " delmarvan19901" began discussing sexual topics. " Beth" sent " delmarvan19901" [438 Md. 155] two photographs that depicted a young teenage girl. " delmarvan19901" sent a photograph of himself.

In addition to sending the two photographs, " Beth" e-mailed " delmarvan19901," who sent a reply e-mail. DS Yamin learned that Greenleaf was using the IP address from which " delmarvan19901" had sent the reply e-mail. The IP address belonged to the Maryland Judiciary. DS Yamin matched the photograph that " delmarvan19901" had sent with a photograph of Greenleaf from the Motor Vehicle Administration's database. Thus, it was established that while the Chief Deputy Clerk of the Court of Special Appeals, Greenleaf used a State-owned computer in the Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building to communicate with " Beth."

Greenleaf believed that " Beth" was a fourteen-year-old or a fifteen-year-old girl.[1] " Beth" repeatedly referred to her age and stated that she was a high school student. The hearing judge expressly rejected Greenleaf's allegation that he believed that " Beth" was an adult who was " role-playing" by posing as a fourteen-year-old or a fifteen-year-old girl.

On approximately one hundred fifty separate dates, Greenleaf and " Beth" e-mailed and/or chatted with each other. On nearly half of those dates, Greenleaf used his computer at the Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building to communicate with " Beth."

Greenleaf's and " Beth's" conversations were " consistently sexually explicit." For example, Greenleaf asked " Beth" to describe her pubic hair, sexual history, bra size, and whether she was taking birth control.[2] Greenleaf often discussed arranging a meeting with " Beth" and described the sexual acts in which he wanted to engage with " Beth." Greenleaf [438 Md. 156] " groomed" " Beth" for sexual activity by telling " Beth" that she seemed more mature than a fourteen-year-old or fifteen-year-old girl.

In December 2010, on four separate occasions, Greenleaf sent " Beth" links to pornographic videos. Greenleaf last communicated with " Beth" on January 25, 2011. Finally, in January 2011, Greenleaf was arrested and was placed on administrative leave. On April 1, 2011, Greenleaf was permitted to retire from his position as the Chief Deputy Clerk of the Court of

Page 1069

Special Appeals. On May 31, 2012, Greenleaf tendered an Alford plea[3] to a charge of attempting to violate Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law (2002, 2012 Repl. Vol.) (" CR" ) § 11-203 (Sale or Display of Obscene Item to Minor). Greenleaf received probation before judgment.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In an attorney discipline proceeding, this Court reviews for clear error the hearing judge's findings of fact, and reviews without deference the hearing judge's conclusions of law. See Md. R. 16-759(b)(2)(B) (" The Court shall give due regard to the opportunity of the hearing judge to assess the credibility of witnesses." ); Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Reno,436 Md. 504, 508, 83 A.3d 781, 783 (2014) (" [T]his Court reviews for clear error a hearing judge's findings of fact[.]" ); Md. R. 16-759(b)(1) (" The Court of Appeals shall review de novo the [hearing] judge's conclusions of law." ). This Court determines whether clear and convincing evidence establishes that a lawyer violated the ...


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