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Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Van Dusen

Court of Appeals of Maryland

June 23, 2015

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland
v.
Dennis Alan Van Dusen

Barbera, C.J.Harrell Battaglia Greene Adkins McDonald Watts, JJ.

OPINION

McDonald, J.

A lawyer must, at a minimum, be trustworthy. One who wants to be a lawyer in Maryland must disclose to the State Board of Law Examiners ("SBLE") and this Court information that bears on that trait. Failure to satisfy those requirements may prevent admission to the bar or, when discovered, result in disbarment.

We have disbarred the newly-admitted lawyer who is the respondent in this disciplinary proceeding and now set forth the reasons why we took that action. To explain our decision, we need not catalog precisely what past indiscretions an applicant must recall and reveal in a bar application. It suffices to say that an applicant who is engaged in ongoing criminal conduct while the application is pending must disclose it to SBLE and this Court. And it is self evident that an applicant who, as a landlord, uses hidden cameras to secretly view and record his tenants in their private bedrooms in intimate moments, without their knowledge or consent, is not trustworthy.

I

Background

A. Procedural Context

On April 12, 2014, the Attorney Grievance Commission ("Commission") charged Dennis Alan Van Dusen with violating several provisions of the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct ("MLRPC") arising out of Mr. Van Dusen's criminal conduct while his application for admission to the Maryland Bar was pending. Specifically, the Commission charged Mr. Van Dusen with violating MLRPC 3.3(a) (candor toward the tribunal), 8.1(a) and (b) (material false statements and deliberate omissions in bar admission matters), and 8.4(a), (b), (c), and (d) (misconduct).

Pursuant to Maryland Rule 16-752(a), this Court designated Judge Anne K. Albright of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County to conduct a hearing concerning the alleged violations and to provide findings of fact and recommended conclusions of law. In January 2015, after holding an evidentiary hearing at which Mr. Van Dusen testified and was represented by counsel, the hearing judge issued her findings of fact and conclusions of law. The hearing judge concluded that Mr. Van Dusen violated MLRPC 8.1(a) and (b), and MLRPC 8.4(a), (b), (c), and (d), but that the Commission did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Van Dusen violated MLRPC 3.3(a).

Neither the Commission nor Mr. Van Dusen filed exceptions to the hearing judge's findings of fact or conclusions of law. On May 7, 2015, we heard oral argument concerning the appropriate sanction. On May 8, 2015, we issued a per curiam order disbarring Mr. Van

Dusen, effective immediately.[1]

B. Facts

The hearing judge's fact findings are uncontested and we treat them as established. Maryland Rule 16-759(b)(2)(A). The following summarizes those findings, the parties' stipulations, and undisputed facts in the record:

Pre-Law Background

Mr. Van Dusen served in the Marines from 1966 to 1973, including service as a sergeant in Vietnam from 1970 to 1972. After his discharge from the military, he earned several advanced degrees from Penn State University and Harvard University, including degrees in computer science, applied mathematics, and engineering. During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Mr. Van Dusen was employed by several electronics businesses, designed new technologies, and started several of his own businesses. In 2006, Mr. Van Dusen decided to change his career path and entered law school at the University of the District of Columbia. He graduated in 2009.

Bar Application

Mr. Van Dusen applied for admission to the Maryland Bar in May 2009.[2] Question 18 of his application for admission asked:

Have there been any circumstances or unfavorable incidents in your life, whether at school, college, law school, business or otherwise, which may have a bearing upon your character or fitness to practice law, not called for by the questions contained in this questionnaire or disclosed in your answers?

Mr. Van Dusen answered "No." In completing the application, he acknowledged under oath that he had a duty to ensure that his responses were accurate and current at all times until he was formally admitted to the Maryland Bar. In particular, he represented in the application that he would advise SBLE immediately and in writing of any changes in the information disclosed in or sought by the application for admission, including the facts of any incident occurring subsequent to the initial filing of the application.

Mr. Van Dusen's application was delayed as a result of the investigation by the local Character Committee. That committee, in a divided vote, recommended to SBLE that he not be admitted. A majority of the committee was concerned with Mr. Van Dusen's perceived litigiousness and questions about his financial responsibility. SBLE undertook its own consideration of his application. Ultimately, in April 2012, the SBLE, also by a divided vote, recommended to this Court that he be admitted to the Maryland Bar.

Surreptitious Surveillance of Tenants

During the time his bar application was pending Mr. Van Dusen lived in his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. From September 2009 through October 2012, he rented bedrooms in his house to young women. Although common areas of the house such as the kitchen, living room, and bathrooms were shared, it was understood that each tenant had a private bedroom.

In August 2010, Mr. Van Dusen returned from a trip to Thailand with tiny cameras that could be remotely operated. Mr. Van Dusen installed the cameras in hidden locations in the bedrooms rented by his tenants. In a bedroom rented by Rebecca Prywes, a camera was hidden in a smoke detector mounted over her bed. Mr. Van Dusen was able to turn the camera to direct it to different areas of the room. In a bedroom rented by Ala Malova, a camera was hidden in an outlet under a desk and was pointed at her bed. Ms. Malova returned home one day to find that Mr. Van Dusen had replaced her mirror in her bedroom with a larger mirror that he had purchased. Mr. Van Dusen told her that her mirror had fallen off the wall and broken and that he wanted to replace it. A second hidden camera in that room then recorded Ms. Malova's reflection in the larger mirror. Each camera worked on sensors that activated the camera when someone entered the room or when the lighting in the room changed.[3] The video images obtained by the cameras were transmitted to Mr. Van Dusen's computer where he could view and retain them.

Mr. Van Dusen knew that secretly recording a tenant in private without the tenant's consent was illegal, unethical, and an invasion of the tenant's privacy. During this proceeding, Mr. Van Dusen attributed his behavior to a number of stressors in his life that he said affected his conduct while his bar application was pending before the Character Committee.[4] Noting that Mr. Van Dusen did not introduce evidence other than his testimony on these factors and expressing some doubt about his credibility, the hearing judge declined to credit that testimony. She did, ...


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