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Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Mungin

Court of Appeals of Maryland

July 18, 2014

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND
v.
VAUGHN MILES MUNGIN

Argued June 4, 2014.

Page 123

Circuit Court for Prince George's County. Case No. CAE13-03396. Crystal Dixon Mitteistaedt JUDGE.

ARGUED BY JaCina N. Stanton, Assistant Bar Counsel (Glenn M. Grossman, Bar Counsel, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland) FOR PETITIONER.

ARGUED BY William C. Brennan, Esquire (Brennan McKenna Manzi Shay Levan of Greenbelt, MD) FOR RESPONDENT.

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

OPINION

Watts, J.

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[439 Md. 294] This attorney discipline proceeding concerns a Maryland lawyer who: (1) negligently mishandled his attorney trust account in connection with nine separate client matters; (2) withdrew cash from his attorney trust account on three separate occasions; and (3) failed to properly account for and disburse settlement funds in a prompt fashion.

Vaughn Miles Mungin (" Mungin" ), Respondent, a member of the Bar of Maryland, was retained by various clients in personal injury cases, all of which were settled pursuant to agreements. On March 22, 2011, Capital One, N.A. (" Capital One" ), the holder of Mungin's attorney trust account, notified the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland (" the Commission" ), Petitioner, that a check in the amount of $2,000 had been presented without sufficient funds present in the attorney trust account, resulting in an overdraft in the amount of $1,548.84.

On February 26, 2013, on the Commission's behalf, Bar Counsel filed in this Court a " Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action" against Mungin, charging him with violating Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct (" MLRPC" ) 1.1 (Competence), 1.15 (Safekeeping Property), 8.4(b) (Criminal Act), 8.4(c) (Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit, or Misrepresentation), 8.4(d) (Conduct That Is Prejudicial to the Administration of Justice), and 8.4(a) (Violating the MLRPC), Maryland Rule 16-607 (Commingling of Funds), Maryland Rule 16-609 (Prohibited Transactions), and Md. Code Ann., [439 Md. 295] Bus. Occ. & Prof. (1989, 2010 Repl. Vol.) (" BOP" ) § 10-306 (Trust Money Restrictions).

On March 12, 2013, we designated the Honorable Crystal Dixon Mittelstaedt (" the hearing judge" ) of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County to hear this attorney discipline proceeding. On July 8 and 25, 2013, the hearing judge conducted a hearing. On October 18, 2013, the hearing judge filed in this Court findings of fact and conclusions of law, concluding that Mungin had violated MLRPC 1.1, 1.15(a), 1.15(d), 8.4(d), and 8.4(a), Maryland Rule 16-609(a)-(c), and BOP § 10-306, but had not violated MLRPC 8.4(b) or MLRPC 8.4(c).[1]

On June 4, 2014, we heard oral argument. For the below reasons, we indefinitely suspend Mungin from the practice of law in Maryland with the right to apply for reinstatement after six months.

BACKGROUND

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

On March 7, 2005, this Court admitted Mungin to the Bar of Maryland. In 2006, Mungin became a solo practitioner and opened an office in Greenbelt, Maryland. On or about March 21, 2011, Mungin presented a check in the amount of $2,000, drawn on his attorney trust account, for

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payment to Capital One, the holder of his attorney trust account. Presentment of the check caused an overdraft of the attorney trust account in the amount of $1,548.84.

On or about April 7, 2011, Mungin received from Bar Counsel a certified letter requesting an explanation for the overdraft. On August 30, 2011, Bar Counsel subpoenaed Mungin's attorney trust account records for the period between [439 Md. 296] May 1, 2009, and June 30, 2011. The records revealed that, in May 2010, Mungin made three cash withdrawals from his attorney trust account totaling $500: one withdrawal of $100 in cash and two withdrawals of $200 in cash. Bar Counsel discovered that Mungin had mishandled his attorney trust account in connection with nine separate client matters.

Trina Coore Matter

On May 11, 2009, Mungin deposited into his attorney trust account a check in the amount of $8,000 on behalf of his client, Trina Coore (" Coore" ), received pursuant to a settlement in Coore's personal injury case. Of the settlement funds, $1,743.83 was to be paid to Coore's medical providers, and $2,665 comprised Mungin's attorney's fees. Specifically, $1,146 was to be paid to Physiotherapy Associates, $561.09 was to be paid to Doctor's Community Hospital, and $36.74 was to be paid to Doctor's Community Hospital/ER Division. On May 13, 2009, Mungin transferred $5,000 in funds from his attorney trust account to his operating account. On May 20, 2009, Mungin issued to Coore a check in the amount of $3,219.90, drawn on Mungin's attorney trust account.

In June 2009, Mungin failed to maintain $1,743.83 in the attorney trust account for the outstanding balances owed to Coore's medical providers. On June 9, 2009, Mungin's attorney trust account balance fell to $565. On June 24, 2009, Mungin was out of trust[2] in the Coore matter, and Mungin's attorney trust account balance fell to $28.75.

On July 7, 2009, Mungin issued a second check to Coore in the amount of $451.97, drawn on Mungin's attorney trust account. On the same day, Coore and Mungin signed Coore's settlement report, which stated: " I hereby approve the entire settlement and distribution made herein and assume full responsibility for all bills incurred by me in connection with this accident not listed above[.]" (Capitalization omitted). Coore's settlement report also stated: " Amended Settlement because [439 Md. 297] of Doctor's Community Hospital partial payment bill." The settlement report listed the partial payment to Doctor's Community Hospital as $109.12.

On July 14, 2009, Mungin issued checks to Coore's medical providers on Coore's behalf in the following amounts: $1,146 to Physiotherapy Associates; $109.12 to Doctor's Community Hospital; and $36.74 to Doctor's Community Hospital/ER Division. The check issued to Doctor's Community Hospital on Coore's behalf was mistakenly issued in the amount of $109.12, instead of $561.09. Mungin did not pay the remaining balance of $451.97 owed to Doctor's Community Hospital; and the second check to Coore on July 7, 2009, in the amount of $451.97, was issued in error and should have been issued to Doctor's Community Hospital instead.

Bruce Joyner Matter

On June 29, 2009, Mungin deposited into his attorney trust account a check in the

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amount of $7,200 on behalf of his client, Bruce Joyner (" Joyner" ), received pursuant to a settlement in Joyner's personal injury case. Of the settlement funds, $4,678.32 was to be paid to Joyner's medical providers, and $2,258.68 comprised Mungin's attorney's fees. Specifically, $142.32 was to be paid to Laurel Regional Hospital Emergency Room, $299 was to be paid to Laurel Regional Hospital Doctors Visit, and $4,237 was to be paid to New Carrollton Therapy Center. On June 29, 2009, Joyner and Mungin signed Joyner's settlement report, which stated: " I hereby approve the entire settlement and distribution made herein and assume full responsibility for all bills incurred by me in connection with this accident not listed above." (Capitalization omitted). Joyner's settlement report listed distributions to the three medical providers, even though the liens were not satisfied until February 2010.

On July 6, 2009, Mungin issued to Joyner a check in the amount of $3,500, drawn on his attorney trust account. On October 22, 2009, Mungin issued to Joyner a second check in the amount of $298 as reimbursement of funds that Joyner had paid to an emergency room.

[439 Md. 298] Between June 29, 2009, and December 11, 2009, Mungin transferred funds from his attorney trust account to his operating account. On December 11, 2009, Mungin's attorney trust account balance fell to -$4.92. Mungin was out of trust in the Joyner matter. On February 16, 2010, Mungin issued a check to New Carrollton Therapy Center on Joyner's behalf in the amount of $1,000, and issued a second check to Laurel Regional Hospital on Joyner's behalf in the amount of $139.47. After receiving the settlement funds in the Joyner matter on June 29, 2009, Mungin paid himself $64,200 in attorney's fees,[3] but failed to timely satisfy the liens owed to Joyner's medical providers.

Waikia Williams Matter

On July 21, 2009, Mungin deposited into his attorney trust account a check in the amount of $8,700 on behalf of his client, Waikia Williams (" Williams" ), received pursuant to a settlement in Williams's personal injury case. Of the settlement funds, $1,250.50 was to be paid to Williams's three medical providers, and $2,900 comprised Mungin's attorney's fees. From July 23, 2009, through July 29, 2009, Mungin transferred $3,850 from his attorney trust account to his operating account.

On July 29, 2009, Mungin issued to Williams a check in the amount of $4,549.50, drawn on his attorney trust account. On the same day, Mungin issued checks to two of Williams's medical providers on Williams's behalf in the amounts of $100.50 and $150. On December 11, 2009, Mungin's attorney trust account balance fell to -$4.92, and the third medical provider had an outstanding lien in the amount of $1,000. From July 21, 2009, until February 16, 2010, Mungin was required to continuously maintain $1,000 in trust for payment to the third medical provider; Mungin failed to do so. On February 16, 2010, Mungin issued a check to the third medical [439 Md. 299] provider on Williams's behalf in the amount of $1,000. The issuance of the check to the third medical provider invaded trust monies held for other clients and/or third parties.

Jonathan Roberts Matter

On August 7, 2009, Mungin deposited into his attorney trust account a check in

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the amount of $8,500 on behalf of his client, Jonathan Roberts (" Roberts" ), received pursuant to a settlement in Roberts's personal injury case. Of the settlement funds, $3,719.20 was to be paid to Roberts's medical providers, and $2,300 comprised Mungin's attorney's fees. Specifically, $1,719.20 was to be paid to Physiotherapy Associates (" Physiotherapy" ), and $2,000 was to be paid to Bezak Chiropractic and Rehabilitation (" Bezak" ). From August 7, 2009, through August 13, 2009, Mungin transferred $4,000 from his attorney trust account to his operating account. After receiving the settlement funds, Mungin received telephone calls from Physiotherapy and Bezak, which requested payment of their outstanding liens. Mungin failed to satisfy the liens at that time, and instead transferred funds that should have been used to satisfy the liens from his attorney trust account to his operating account.

On December 11, 2009, Mungin's attorney trust account balance fell to -$4.92. On May 20, 2010, for the first time, Mungin disbursed settlement funds in the Roberts matter, when he issued to Roberts a check in the amount of $2,480, drawn on his attorney trust account. In September 2012, over three years after receiving the settlement funds, Mungin satisfied the medical liens owed to Physiotherapy and Bezak on Roberts's behalf. Specifically, on September 28, 2012, Mungin issued checks to Physiotherapy and Bezak on Roberts's behalf, drawn on his operating account because the funds had not been maintained in his attorney trust account.

Tekema Baker Matter

On or about October 29, 2009, Mungin deposited into his attorney trust account a check in the amount of $4,000 on behalf of his client, Tekema Baker (" Baker" ), received pursuant [439 Md. 300] to a settlement in Baker's personal injury case. Of the settlement funds, $1,000 was to be paid to Rising Health Chiropractors (" Rising Health" ), Baker's medical provider, and $1,333.33 comprised Mungin's attorney's fees. On October 30, 2009, Mungin transferred $2,600 from his attorney trust account to his operating account. On November 6, 2009, Mungin issued to Baker a check in the amount of $1,556.67, drawn on Mungin's attorney trust account. On the same day, Baker and Mungin signed Baker's settlement report, which stated: " I hereby approve the entire settlement and distribution made herein and assume full responsibility for all bills incurred by me in connection with this accident not listed above[.]" (Capitalization omitted).

In December 2009, there were several dates on which Mungin failed to maintain $1,000 in his attorney trust account for the outstanding balance owed to Rising Health. On December 11, 2009, Mungin's attorney trust account balance fell to -$4.92. Mungin's attorney trust account balance remained below $1,000 until December 15, 2009, when other client funds replenished Mungin's attorney trust account. On December 24, 2009, on Baker's behalf, Mungin finally issued to Rising Health a check in the amount of $1,000.

Michael Jenkins Matter

On November 24, 2009, Mungin deposited into his attorney trust account a check in the amount of $4,200 on behalf of his client, Michael Jenkins (" Jenkins" ), received pursuant to a settlement in Jenkins's personal injury case. Of the settlement funds, $1,830 was to be paid to Rising Health, Jenkins's medical provider, and $1,300 comprised Mungin's attorney's fees. Between November 24, 2009, and December 9, 2009, Mungin transferred funds from his attorney trust account to his operating account. On December 9, 2009, after receiving a reduction from

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Rising Health (from $1,830 to $1,500), Mungin issued to Jenkins a check in the amount of $1,500, drawn on Mungin's attorney trust account.

On December 11, 2009, Mungin's attorney trust account balance fell to -$4.92. As of March 19, 2010, Mungin's attorney [439 Md. 301] trust account balance was $283.10. At various times since receiving the settlement funds on November 24, 2009, Mungin was out of trust in the Jenkins matter in the amount of $1,500. On April 13, 2010, on Jenkins's behalf, Mungin finally issued to Rising Health a check in the amount of $1,500, using other client funds deposited into the attorney trust account after March 19, 2010.

Robin Whitehurst Matter

On February 2, 2010, Mungin deposited into his attorney trust account a check in the amount of $7,000 on behalf of his client, Robin Whitehurst (" Whitehurst" ), received pursuant to a settlement in Whitehurst's personal injury case. Of the settlement funds, $1,000 was to be paid to Optimum Care Center, Whitehurst's medical provider, and $2,800 comprised Mungin's attorney's fees. From February 2, 2010, through March 12, 2010, Mungin transferred $19,600 from his attorney trust account into his operating account. On March 12, 2010, Mungin issued to Whitehurst a check in the amount of $3,050, drawn on his attorney trust account.

From February 2, 2010, until June 4, 2010, Mungin was required to continuously maintain $1,000 in trust for the Whitehurst matter for payment to Optimum Care Center; Mungin failed to do so. As of March 19, 2010, Mungin's attorney trust account balance was $283.10. On April 22, 2010, Mungin's attorney trust account balance fell to $6.77. On June 4, 2010, on Whitehurst's behalf, Mungin finally issued to Optimum Care Center a check in the amount of ...


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