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Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Agbaje

Court of Appeals of Maryland

May 19, 2014


Argued: April 4, 2014.

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Circuit Court for Baltimore County. Case No. 03-C-13-002786. Jan Marshall Alexander, JUDGE.

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


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


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[438 Md. 705] Barbera, C.J.

Petitioner, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland (" Commission" ), acting through Bar Counsel, has filed with this Court a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action (" Petition" ) against Respondent, Taiwo A. Agbaje. The Commission alleges violations of the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct (" MLRPC" ) in connection with Respondent's entering into a Real Estate Investment Partnership Agreement with Dolapo Popoola, while Ms. Popoola was a current client of Respondent. Pursuant to Maryland Rules 16-752(a) and 16-757(c), this Court designated the Honorable Jan Marshall Alexander of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County (" the hearing judge" ) to conduct an evidentiary hearing and file written findings of fact and conclusions of law. After conducting the hearing, during which both Respondent [438 Md. 706] and Ms. Popoola testified, the hearing judge issued findings of fact and conclusions of law in which he concluded, by clear and convincing evidence, that Respondent had violated MLRPC 1.8(a) (conflict of interest); [1] and MLRPC 8.4(a), (b), (c), and (d) (misconduct).[2]

Respondent has filed numerous exceptions relating to process and procedure as well as the substance of the hearing judge's findings of fact and conclusions of law. For reasons we shall explain, we sustain two of Respondent's exceptions related to the hearing judge's factual findings and overrule all remaining exceptions. Notwithstanding our agreement with Respondent on these two limited points, we are in accord with the hearing judge's legal conclusions that Respondent violated MLRPC 1.8(a) and 8.4(a), (b), (c), and (d), and we conclude that disbarment is the appropriate sanction for Respondent's misconduct.

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[438 Md. 707] I.

We begin with the procedural history of the case, which sets the stage for several of the exceptions Respondent places before us for decision. Shortly after being served with the Petition and filing his answer, Respondent served Assistant Bar Counsel with a notice of intention to take the deposition of Ms. Popoola, who resided in England at that time. The next day, Assistant Bar Counsel emailed Respondent to inform him that she did not represent Ms. Popoola and therefore was not authorized to accept the notice on her behalf but was willing to assist in arranging a video deposition of her.

Assistant Bar Counsel subsequently emailed Ms. Popoola in order to obtain her mailing address and telephone number and inquire whether she was willing to appear voluntarily for a deposition. Ms. Popoola provided only her telephone number--explaining that she was unwilling to provide her home address--and agreed to appear for a telephone deposition. At some point, Assistant Bar Counsel forwarded this information to Respondent. After Assistant Bar Counsel had made several efforts to arrange the deposition of Ms. Popoola, Respondent told Assistant Bar Counsel that

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" [t]here is no need to pursue [scheduling the deposition] any further with you." Instead, he would " resort to all options provided by Maryland law."

Respondent also served Assistant Bar Counsel with interrogatories. Among other things, Respondent asked Assistant Bar Counsel to provide " Ms. Popoola's full name, current address, age, date and place of birth, Social Security Number, marital status, email address, and telephone number." Assistant Bar Counsel provided the following response: " Dolapo Popoola to the best of petitioner's information and belief, resides in the United Kingdom. Her Telephone number is . . . **** *** *** and her email address is ********" [3] Shortly thereafter, Respondent [438 Md. 708] filed a motion to compel discovery from Assistant Bar Counsel. He argued that Assistant Bar Counsel had failed to provide Ms. Popoola's address and, without it, he could not comply with the Maryland Rule governing depositions, which required that he serve upon Ms. Popoola a notice of deposition containing " the name and address of the person to be examined." See Md. Rule 2-412(a) (emphasis added). The hearing judge denied the motion, reasoning, in pertinent part:

I believe [Assistant Bar Counsel] has adequately provided Answers to Interrogatories as required by the Rules . . . . [T]hey are entitled to give you information that is exclusively within their possession. They have guided you as to where you could get certain information that was not in their possession, [and] told you how to contact Ms. Popoola. They do not represent her. . . . [T]hey don't have . . . her address. You could [have] easily obtained that or at least made an attempt to obtain that based on the information that was provided to you, mainly her phone number, her email address as well as the assurance of Counsel . . . that she was going to be cooperative in . . . coordinating with Ms. Popoola to speak with you for a ...

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