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Atty. Griev. Comm'n of Maryland v. Williams

Court of Appeals of Maryland

February 19, 2016

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND
v.
GARRETT VINCENT WILLIAMS

         Argued December 3, 2015.

          Circuit Court for Montgomery County. Case No. 30739-M.

         Barbera, C.J., Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Harrell, Jr., Glenn T. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ. Opinion by Greene, J.

          OPINION

Page 233

          [446 Md. 357]Greene, J.

         Garrett Vincent Williams (" Respondent" ) was admitted to the Bar of this Court on June 21, 1995. At all times relevant to this case, he resided in Montgomery County, Maryland.

         The Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, (" Petitioner" ), by Glenn M. Grossman, Bar Counsel, and Lydia E. Lawless, Assistant Bar Counsel, filed a Petition for Disciplinary Or. Remedial Action against Respondent and after the [446 Md. 358] disciplinary hearing recommended that we disbar him for violating the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct (" MLRPC" ). The petition alleged that Respondent, based on his representation of Leslie Valentine-Bowers, had violated several rules of the MLRPC: Rule 1.1 (Competence),[1] Rule 1.2 (Scope of Representation

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and Allocation of Authority Between Client and Lawyer),[2] Rule 1.3 (Diligence),[3] Rule 1.4 (a) and (b) (Communication), Rule 3.2[4] (Expediting Litigation),[5] Rule 3.3 (Candor Toward the Tribunal),[6] Rule 8.1 (Bar [446 Md. 359] Admission and Disciplinary Matters)[7] and Rule 8.4 (a), (b), (c) and (d) (Misconduct).[8]

         This Court, by an Order dated February 10, 2015, transmitted the action to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County and designated the Honorable Cheryl A. McCally of that court to make findings of fact and recommended conclusions of law. The hearing judge scheduled hearings on May 13, and June 25, 2015. Respondent failed to appear. On May 21, 2015, the hearing judge entered an Order of Default against Respondent for failure to respond to the Petition For Disciplinary or Remedial Action. Respondent failed to take any

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action to vacate the Order of Default or to participate in the disciplinary proceedings.[9]

          [446 Md. 360] Judge McCally accepted fully Petitioner's proposed " Factual findings and Conclusions of Law." Neither party filed exceptions to Judge McCally's written factual findings and legal conclusions. In addition, Respondent failed to offer any recommendation contrary to Petitioner's written recommendation for disbarment. Under the circumstances, Judge McCally's findings were not clearly erroneous, and her conclusions of law were supported by clear and convincing evidence. We disbarred Respondent in a per curiam order issued December 3, 2015. Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Williams, 445 Md., 323, 126 A.3d 1162 (2015). In this opinion, we explain that decision.

         FINDINGS OF FACT[10]

         The hearing judge determined that at some point in 2008, Leslie Valentine-Bowers lost vision in her right eye. She claimed that her lost vision was attributable to the negligence of her medical providers. On May 22, 2008, Respondent met with Ms. Valentine-Bowers to discuss her claim. As a result of that meeting, Respondent agreed to represent Ms. Valentine-Bowers [446 Md. 361] and " assured [her] that she had a good case." They entered into a written agreement, " entitled 'Legal Representation Agreement,'" whereby Respondent agreed to represent Ms. Valentine-Bowers " in the resolution of all claims arising from healthcare performed by Drs. Moffett and Phillips including any negotiations or subsequent litigation." Under the terms of their written agreement, Respondent promised that he " would promptly notify her of all significant developments and keep her informed about the status of her case." Ms. Valentine-Bowers further agreed " to pay the Respondent 33.3% of any recovery if resolved prior to filing a complaint and 45% of any recovery after a complaint had been filed."

         Almost two years after agreeing to represent Ms. Valentine-Bowers, Respondent initiated a medical malpractice claim on behalf of his client. The hearing judge further found:

On January 27, 2010, the Respondent, on behalf of Ms. Valentine-Bowers filed a Statement of Claim with the Maryland Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution

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Office. On March 23, 2010, the Respondent filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County against Flora Feldman, O.D., Flora Feldman and Associates, Inc. and Nicole 1 Moffett, O.D. On September 14, 2010, the Respondent filed a second complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County against The Retina Group of Washington, P.C. (hereinafter " TRG" ). The Respondent failed to serve either of the complaints on any of the defendants for over a year. On September 12, 2011, the court consolidated the two cases.
1Flora Feldman, O.D. and Flora Feldman and Associates, Inc. were eventually voluntarily dismissed.
On November 4, 2011, TRG was served. On December 2, 2011, Dr. Moffett was served. TRG filed a timely Answer and propounded Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents on November 30, 2011. Dr. Moffett filed a [446 Md. 362] timely Answer and propounded Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents on December 20, 2011.
The Respondent received TRG's written discovery on or about November 30, 2011 and Dr. Moffett's written discovery on or about December 20, 2011. Pursuant to Maryland Rules 2-241(b) and 2-422(c), discovery responses were due December 30, 3011 and January 29, 2012, respectively.
On January 31, 2012, having heard nothing from the Respondent, Dr. Moffet's counsel wrote to the Respondent and requested the discovery responses be provided within ten (10) days. The Respondent responded and asked for a two-week extension of time. On February 29, 2012, having heard nothing from the Respondent, TRG's counsel wrote to the Respondent and inquired when the discovery responses would be provided and asked for available dates for Ms. Valentine-Bowers' deposition. The Respondent failed to respond in any manner.
Between November 30, 2011 and March 2, 2012, the Respondent made no effort to contact Ms. Valentine-Bowers regarding the discovery requests and made no effort to draft responses to interrogatories or document requests. On May 2, 2012, the Respondent, for the first time, contacted Ms. Valentine-Bowers about the discovery requests. He forwarded copies of the interrogatories to her by email and asked her to 'forward [her] answer . . . at [her] earliest opportunity.' The Respondent did not advise Ms. Valentine-Bowers that the deadline for responding to discovery had passed or that TRG had requested available dates for her deposition. On March 7, 2012, Dr. Moffett's counsel wrote to the Respondent and requested [that] responses to discovery be provided in ten (10) days. The Respondent failed to respond in any manner. On March 15, 2012, TRG's counsel sent a second letter to the Respondent regarding the overdue discovery and warned that if responses were not received by March 23, 2012, he would file a motion with the court and unilaterally note Ms. Valentine-Bowers' deposition. On April 27 and 30, 2012, TRG's counsel called the Respondent. The Respondent failed to respond in any [446 Md. 363] manner to the March 23 letter or subsequent phone calls from TRG's counsel.
On May 4, 2012, Dr. Moffett's counsel `attempted to reach the Respondent by telephone and, unable to reach him directly, left a voice-mail message advising that a motion to compel would be filed if the discovery responses were not provided

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by May 7, 2012. The Respondent did not respond to the voice-mail. On May 3, 2012, TRG filed a Motion to Compel and on May 4, 2012, TRG noted Ms. Valentine-Bowers' deposition for July 6, 2012. On May 8, 2012, Dr. Moffett filed a Motion to Compel.
Between May 2, 2012, the date he forwarded the interrogatories to Ms. Valentine-Bowers, and May 11, 2012, the Respondent made no effort to contact his client. On May 11, 2012, after TRG and Dr. Moffett had filed motions, the Respondent forwarded the interrogatories to Ms. Valentine-Bowers again and stated: 'Please see below.' The Respondent did not advise his client that the deadline to respond to discovery had passed, that Motions to Compel had been filed or that her deposition had been noted for July 6, 2012. On May 15, 2012, Ms. Valentine-Bowers provided her responses to interrogatories to the Respondent by email and stated: " Let me know if you need more info."

         The hearing judge found the delays with regard to addressing the discovery issues continued:

The Respondent did not respond in any manner to the Motions to Compel. On May 31, 2012, the circuit court granted TRG's Motion to Compel and ordered Ms. Valentine-Bowers to provide answers to interrogatories and produce the requested documents by June 18, 2012. The court warned that failure to abide by the order may subject Ms. Valentine-Bowers to sanctions and/or penalties. The court denied Dr. Moffett's May 8 Motion because it did not contain a Rule 2-431 Certificate. The Respondent did not advise his client of the May 31 Order.
On June 5, 2012, Dr. Moffett filed a Second Motion to Compel and attached a proper 2-431 Certificate. The Respondent [446 Md. 364] failed to respond to Dr. Moffett's Second Motion to Compel. On June 27, 2012, having heard nothing from the Respondent, TRG filed a Motion for Sanctions. On July 5, 2012, the circuit court granted Dr. Moffett's Second Motion to Compel and ordered that Ms. Valentine-Bowers provide full and complete Answers to Interrogatories and produce all requested documents by or before July 12, 2012. The court warned, again, that failure to comply could subject Ms. Valentine-Bowers to sanctions. The judge's law clerk personally called the Respondent and advised him of the content of the July 12 Order. The Respondent failed to advise his client of the July 12 Order.

         The hearing judge determined that " on July 6, 2012, counsel for all defendants appeared for Ms. Valentine-Bower's deposition as noted by TRG's counsel. Neither Respondent nor Ms. Valentine-Bowers appeared." Ms. Valentine-Bowers' failure to appear for her deposition led to TRG filing, on July 9, 2012, a Supplemental Memorandum in support of the Motion for Sanctions. This gave TRG an additional reason to support its request for a dismissal of Ms. Valentine-Bowers' complaint. The hearing judge explained:

Between May 15, 2012, the date Ms. Valentine-Bowers provided her draft answers to interrogatories to the Respondent, and July 12, 2012, the Respondent made no effort to contact Ms. Valentine-Bowers about her discovery responses or to finalize answers to interrogatories or responses to document requests. [] On July 12, 2012, the deadline established by the July 5 Order, the Respondent mailed unexecuted Answers to Interrogatories to Dr. Moffett and TRG. Also on July 12, 2012, the Respondent emailed the answers to interrogatories

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to Ms. Valentine-Bowers and stated:
These are finally done. Sorry for the delay, but we had some computer issues over here. Anyway, please read through both sets and make sure they are accurate and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief. If so, please sign the signature pages (the very last page of each document), and e-mail or fax [] the signed signature [446 Md. 365] pages back to me. If you have any minor corrections, please mark them on the document and also send those corrected pages with the signature pages.
If you have any questions regarding anything, please give me a call on my cell []. Thank you.
Counsel for Dr. Moffett and TRG received the unexecuted answers on July 17, 2012. Also on July 17, 2012, the Respondent mailed the signature page to opposing counsel.
After receiving the unexecuted, undated responses, TRG and Dr. Moffett consolidated all grounds for dismissal into one motion entitled Defendants' Joint Motion for Sanctions (hereinafter Joint Motion) which was filed on July 20, 2012. The Respondent failed to advise his client of the Joint Motion. On or about August 10, 2012 the Respondent filed an Opposition to the Joint Motion. In the Opposition, the Respondent knowingly and intentionally misrepresented to the circuit court that 'the delay in generating discovery was due to Plaintiffs Counsel's inability to make contact with the Plaintiff and was not intentional or contumacious.'
On October 5, 2012, a hearing was held on the Joint Motion. At the hearing, the Respondent made the following knowing and intentional misrepresentations to the court:
o I was not able to [provide discovery to the defendants] because I was not able to communicate with my client. She's been, we'd been unable to communicate with her for months until finally she called me, and I said, where have you been, I've been trying to get a hold of you. She said, oh, you know, I didn't know. I said well, you know, have your numbers changed? She said, yes. I said has your e-mail changed? She said, no. I said, well, I've sent you numerous e-mails, I said, what's going on with that? She said, well, I didn't get them. Maybe they went to my spam folder, and she never confirmed whether they did or didn't go to her spam folder, she just said she had never received them. And then ultimately, we drafted up the answers to the written discovery as soon as we could.
[446 Md. 366] o The initial answers to interrogatories were sent out inadvertently without the signature page and that Ms. Valentine-Bowers did not appear for her scheduled deposition because the Respondent didn't know where she was.
o Unfortunately, [Ms. Valentine-Bowers] was out of communication with her counsel for some time. But as soon as I got a hold of her, she cooperated. She's in full cooperation. I have all of her contact information at this time, and we're prepared to appear for a deposition as early as this coming week to get this case moving along.
Contrary to the Respondent's statements, Ms. Valentine-Bowers maintained the same mailing address, email address and phone number during the pendency ...

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