Argued: June 3, 2015
Circuit Court for Howard County Case No. 13-C-14-099125
Barbera, C.J. [*]Harrell Battaglia Greene Adkins McDonald Watts, JJ.
This attorney discipline proceeding involves a lawyer who, among other things, failed to: (1) deposit unearned legal fees into an attorney trust account; (2) refund unearned legal fees to clients following termination of representation; (3) sufficiently and timely respond to clients' reasonable inquiries; and (4) competently and diligently represent his clients' interests.
Between October 2011 and June 2013, Kenneth Haley ("Haley"), Respondent, a member of the Bar of Maryland, represented six clients in various matters. All six clients filed complaints against Haley with the Attorney Grievance Commission ("the Commission"), Petitioner.
On May 15, 2014, on the Commission's behalf, Bar Counsel filed in this Court a "Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action" against Haley, charging him with violating Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct ("MLRPC") 1.1 (Competence), 1.2(a) (Allocation of Authority Between Client and Lawyer), 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4 (Communication), 1.5(a) (Fees), 1.7(a) (Conflict of Interest), 1.15(a), 1.15(c), and 1.15(d) (Safekeeping Property), 1.16(d) (Terminating Representation), 8.4(c) (Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit, or Misrepresentation), 8.4(d) (Conduct that is Prejudicial to the Administration of Justice), 8.4(a) (Violating the MLRPC), and Md. Code Ann., Bus. Occ. & Prof. (1989, 2010 Repl. Vol.) ("BOP") § 10-306 (Misuse of Trust Money).
On September 29, 2014, this Court designated the Honorable Richard S. Bernhardt ("the hearing judge") of the Circuit Court for Howard County to hear this attorney discipline proceeding. On November 17, 18, and 19, 2014, the hearing judge conducted a hearing. On December 29, 2014, the hearing judge filed in this Court an opinion including findings of fact and conclusions of law, concluding that Haley had violated MLRPC 1.1, 1.2(a), 1.3, 1.4, 1.5(a), 1.7(a), 1.15(a), 1.15(c), 1.16(d), 8.4(c), 8.4(d), 8.4(a), and BOP § 10-306.
On June 3, 2015, we heard oral argument. On June 5, 2015, we disbarred Haley. See Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Haley, Misc. Docket AG No. 9, Sept. Term, 2014, 2015 WL 3536345, at *1 (Md. June 5, 2015) (per curiam). We now explain the reasons for Haley's disbarment.
The hearing judge found the following facts, which we summarize.
On May 30, 2007, this Court admitted Haley to the Bar of Maryland. Haley worked for various federal agencies. In 2010, Haley became a solo practitioner in Columbia, Maryland. Haley's primary areas of practice included family law, criminal law, and labor law.
Before he performed any legal services, Haley received a flat fee from each of the six clients who ended up filing complaints against him with the Commission. In each case, without his client's consent, Haley deposited the unearned fee into an operating account instead of an attorney trust account.
Haley's professional relationship with each of the six clients followed a similar pattern. At the beginning of the representation, Haley communicated appropriately with the client. As the representation progressed, Haley became less responsive to the client's inquiries. Haley's final communications with the client usually involved an argument, during which Haley would exhibit hostility and blame the client for the breakdown of the attorney-client relationship.
Vernita Ali Matter
In 2012, on her own behalf, Vernita Ali ("Ali") filed a motion to modify custody in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. A hearing on the motion to modify was scheduled for July 31, 2012. On June 7, 2012, Ali and Haley executed an attorney-client agreement, and Ali paid Haley a $2, 800 flat fee. Without Ali's consent, Haley deposited the fee into an operating account instead of an attorney trust account.
Haley and Ali agreed that Haley would enter his appearance on Ali's behalf, file a supplemental motion to modify, and represent Ali at the hearing on the motion to modify. Haley did not perform any of these tasks. In June and July 2012, Ali attempted to contact Haley, who did not respond. At some point before July 10, 2012, Ali and Haley spoke via telephone; Ali asked about the case's status; an argument ensued; and Haley hung up on Ali. On July 10, 2012, Ali terminated the representation and requested a full refund of the fee. On July 31, 2012, Ali appeared on her own behalf at the hearing on the motion to modify, and did not prevail.
In April 2013, Ali filed a complaint against Haley with the Commission. Afterward, Haley refunded Ali $2, 307.56 of the fee.
Keith Boyd Matter
On October 10, 2011, Keith Boyd ("Boyd") retained Haley to represent him in a child custody case. Boyd paid Haley a $2, 800 flat fee. Without Boyd's consent, Haley deposited the fee into an operating account instead of an attorney trust account.
On February 23, 2012, on Boyd's behalf, Haley filed a motion to modify custody in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Haley and Boyd appeared at a hearing at which Haley repeatedly disregarded Boyd's instructions. For example, Haley disregarded Boyd's instruction to introduce Boyd's child's school attendance records; Haley relied on opposing counsel's assertion that the records were inaccurate. As another example, Haley disregarded Boyd's instruction to dispute opposing counsel's allegation that Boyd had been charged with acts of domestic violence.
On or about October 1, 2012, Boyd terminated the representation. Haley failed to refund Boyd any of the fee.
Tina Myers Matter
On May 17, 2012, Tina Myers ("Myers") retained Haley to represent her in an appeal of a ruling on custody. Myers paid Haley a $3, 000 flat fee. Without Myers's consent, Haley deposited the fee into an operating account instead of an attorney trust account.
On June 14, 2012, on Myers's behalf, Haley timely filed a "Line, Notice and Leave to Appeal" in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Between May 17, 2012 and July 2, 2012, Myers e-mailed Haley on several occasions to ask about the appeal's status; Haley responded to only one of Myers's e-mails. On July 2, 2012, Myers decided to abandon the appeal and pursue modification of custody instead. Haley failed to timely file a motion to modify custody and failed to refund Myers any of the fee.
Demetrius McClarty Matter
On March 9, 2012, Demetrius McClarty ("McClarty") retained Haley to represent him in a matter concerning modification of joint custody and guardianship. McClarty paid Haley a $2, 600 flat fee. Without McClarty's consent, Haley deposited the fee into an operating account instead of an attorney trust account.
On March 28, 2012, Haley and McClarty met to review a motion to modify custody and guardianship that Haley had written. The motion contained several errors, including misspellings of McClarty's name and incorrect uses of pronouns. On April 13, 2012, Haley filed the motion to modify custody and guardianship in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. The motion to modify custody and guardianship included a certificate of service with an incorrect address for McClarty's ex-wife. Additionally, Haley failed to include with the motion to modify custody and guardianship a domestic case information report, as required by Maryland Rule 2-111 (Process -- Requirements Preliminary to Summons). On April 16, 2012, the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County ordered Haley to file a domestic case information report. Haley failed to comply with the order. On May 24, 2012, the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County dismissed the motion to modify custody and guardianship without prejudice. Haley failed to inform McClarty of the dismissal.
On or about June 26, 2012, McClarty terminated the representation. On June 29, 2012, without McClarty's consent, and despite having reason to know that McClarty had terminated the representation, Haley filed in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County a second motion to modify custody and guardianship and an answer to McClarty's ex-wife's motion for contempt. Haley did not provide McClarty a copy of either filing. On July 23, 2012, Haley filed in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County a motion to strike his appearance. Haley failed to provide McClarty with five days' written notice of his intent to withdraw, as required by Maryland Rule 2-132 (Striking of Attorney's Appearance). And, Haley failed to refund McClarty any of the fee.
Eric Hemphill Matter
In 2012, Eric Hemphill ("Hemphill") retained Haley to represent him in a custody case. Hemphill informed Haley that he wanted joint legal and shared physical custody of his two children. Hemphill paid Haley a $2, 600 flat fee. Without Hemphill's consent, Haley deposited ...