Argued: September 9, 2014
Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No. CAE12-40669
Barbera, C.J., Harrell Battaglia Greene Adkins McDonald Watts, JJ.
Petitioner, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland (the "Commission"), acting through Bar Counsel, has filed with this Court a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action ("Petition") against Respondent, Joseph M. Kum. The Petition alleged several violations of the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct ("MLRPC") in connection with two matters involving, among other misconduct, the misappropriation of client funds.
We designated the Honorable Krystal Q. Alves of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County (the "hearing judge") to conduct the hearing, make findings of fact, and draw conclusions of law. Respondent was served with process pursuant to Maryland Rule 16-753. Respondent did not file a response to the Petition, timely or otherwise. On June 28, 2013, the hearing judge entered a default order against Respondent. Respondent was served with the default order, notice of the initial hearing date, and, upon its postponement, the subsequent hearing date. Respondent did not seek to vacate the order of default.
The hearing was held on September 6, 2013. Respondent did not appear at the hearing. The Commission presented evidence, including the testimony of four witnesses. On September 18, 2013, the hearing judge issued written findings of fact and conclusions of law in which she concluded, by clear and convincing evidence, that Respondent had violated MLRPC 1.4(a) (communication); MLRPC 1.15(a) and (d) (safekeeping property); MLRPC 1.16(d) (declining or terminating representation); MLRPC 8.1(b) (bar admission and disciplinary matters); MLRPC 8.4(c) and (d) (misconduct); and Maryland Rule 16-607 (commingling of funds). No exceptions were filed.
On September 9, 2014, this Court heard argument, at which only the Commission appeared. The following day, we entered a per curiam order disbarring Respondent. We explain in this opinion the reasons for that action.
I. Hearing Judge's Findings of Fact
Based on the evidence accepted at the September 6, 2013 hearing, the hearing judge set forth the following findings of fact, which we summarize.
Respondent has been a member of the bar of this Court since December 18, 1996. Respondent maintained a law office with the firm of Amity, Kum & Suleman ("AKS") in Prince George's County, Maryland. As of the date of the hearing, Respondent no longer maintains an office for the practice of law in the State of Maryland.
Commingling of Trust Account Funds
On May 2, 2011, the Commission received notification of an overdraft on an attorney trust account maintained by Respondent at BB&T Bank, titled "Law Offices of Joseph M. Kum IOLTA Acct." ("IOLTA Account"). AKS maintained a separate attorney trust account at M&T Bank, titled "Amity, Kum and Suleman, Attys." (the "AKS Trust Account"). Respondent's IOLTA Account, however, was operated solely by him. In a letter dated May 6, 2011, the Commission asked Respondent to provide an explanation for the overdraft, as well as financial records for the IOLTA Account.
Respondent replied with a letter dated May 18, 2011,  in which he explained that a check for $4, 172, deposited in settlement of a client's personal injury matter, had been returned by the issuing bank due to a missing endorsement. According to Respondent, after he learned of this fact on April 27, 2011, he transferred funds from his general account to cover an IOLTA Account check he had written to a client. Respondent provided records to show two in-branch transfers on April 27, 2011, from his general account to his IOLTA Account in the ...