Argued: March 3, 2016
Circuit Court for Baltimore County Case No. 03-C-15-003961.
Barbera, C.J. [*] Battaglia Greene Adkins McDonald Watts Hotten, JJ.
This attorney disciplinary matter concerns a lawyer with 25 years' experience who was reprimanded by this Court in 2009 for his admitted violations of the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Responsibility ("MLRPC") relating to neglect of clients and a failure to respond to requests for information from Bar Counsel. Shortly after receiving that reprimand, Respondent Richard W. Moore, Jr. undertook representation of clients in two immigration matters that took him down the same path of nonperformance of his professional obligations.
To his credit, Mr. Moore has, as before, largely admitted the violations. We also recognize what appears to be his sincere remorse and the relationship of these violations to his difficulty in coping with long-standing personal issues. The hearing judge aptly characterized the source of Mr. Moore's misconduct as "representational paralysis in the face of a difficult case rather than … dishonesty." Nevertheless, as the regulator of the legal profession in Maryland, we are obligated to protect the public as best we can from attorneys who fail, for whatever reason, to conform to professional norms. Accordingly, we suspend Mr. Moore from the practice of law indefinitely until such time as he can satisfy the Court that the misconduct will not recur.
A. Procedural Context
On March 31, 2015, the Attorney Grievance Commission ("Commission") through Bar Counsel, filed a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action with this Court against Mr. Moore. The Commission charged Mr. Moore with violations of MLRPC 1.1 (Competence), 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4 (Communication), 1.5 (Fees), 1.15 (Safekeeping Property), 1.16 (Declining or Terminating Representation), 8.1(b) (Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters), and 8.4(c) & (d) (Misconduct) arising out of his representation of clients in two immigration matters.
Pursuant to Maryland Rule 16-752(a), the Court designated Judge Julie L. Glass of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County to conduct a hearing concerning the alleged violations and to provide findings of fact and recommended conclusions of law. Before the hearing judge, the Commission did not pursue the alleged violations of MLRPC 1.5, 1.15, and 8.4(c). The parties entered into a comprehensive stipulation of facts and Mr. Moore stipulated to most of the remaining violations of the MLRPC.
On October 7 and 8, 2015, the hearing judge conducted an evidentiary hearing, at which several witnesses, including Mr. Moore, testified and the stipulation and other documents were admitted into evidence. On November 12, 2015, the hearing judge issued a thorough memorandum opinion in which she made detailed findings of fact concerning the alleged violations, as well as findings concerning aggravating and mitigating circumstances. In her recommended conclusions of law, the hearing judge concluded that Mr. Moore had committed all of the remaining violations charged by the Commission.
Neither party filed any exceptions to the hearing judge's findings and conclusions. Oral argument before this Court on March 3, 2016, largely concerned the appropriate sanction.
The hearing judge's fact findings are uncontested, as the parties stipulated to most of them and no exceptions were filed by either side. Therefore, we treat the hearing judge's fact findings as established. Maryland Rule 16-759(b)(2)(A). Those findings, as well as undisputed matters in the record, reveal the following.
Mr. Moore has been a member of the Maryland Bar since June 1991. During the period of time pertinent to this case, he maintained a law office in Baltimore County. Approximately 80 percent of his practice is dedicated to immigration law.
In June 2009, Mr. Moore was reprimanded by consent for failing to provide diligent representation, failing to communicate with a client, and failing to respond to requests for information from Bar Counsel, in violation of MLRPC 1.3, 1.4, and 8.1(b). See Attorney Grievance Commission v. Moore, 409 Md. 303, 973 A.2d 820 (2009).
Representation of Mauro Pasqualucci
Mauro Pasqualucci was born in Italy in 1955, came to the United States with his family as child in 1964, and has resided primarily in the United States since that time. Beginning in 1974, near the end of the Vietnam War, he served in the Marines for two years and was honorably discharged. After his discharge from the military, Mr. Pasqualucci was convicted of a drug offense and served time in federal prison. Following his release from prison in the early 1980s, Mr. Pasqualucci has worked as a licensed taxi cab driver in Annapolis for the past three decades, apparently without further incident until July 2009. At that time, he was arrested by immigration authorities, and was threatened with deportation to Italy, apparently based on his decades-old criminal conviction.
After his arrest, Mr. Pasqualucci was confined in the Howard County Detention Center. Mr. Pasqualucci had difficulty communicating with friends and family outside the detention center. A friend of Mr. Pasqualucci arranged for Mr. Moore to represent him and eventually posted a $20, 000 bond for Mr. Pasqualucci's release. Mr. Pasqualucci paid Mr. Moore $2, 500 for his services in the immigration case.
A hearing was scheduled before an immigration judge on August 10, 2009 while Mr. Pasqualucci was still being detained. Although Mr. Moore had been engaged to represent Mr. Pasqualucci as of that date, Mr. Moore had not filed his appearance and was not present at the hearing. The hearing was rescheduled to allow Mr. Pasqualucci time to contact Mr. Moore.
On the same date as the hearing, Mr. Moore sent a letter to Mr. Pasqualucci, listing several options for avoiding deportation. One of the options was to file an N-600 Application for Certificate of Citizenship (which would allow Mr. Pasqualucci to become an American citizen based on the citizenship of Mr. Pasqualucci's father, who had become a naturalized citizen in 1967). Although Mr. Moore knew that filing this application could be an appropriate strategy for Mr. Pasqualucci to avoid deportation, Mr. Moore never discussed this option further with Mr. Pasqualucci and never filed the application.
Nine months later, after Mr. Pasqualucci had been released from the detention center, he had another hearing before the immigration judge on May 27, 2010. Shortly before the hearing Mr. Moore appeared at the courthouse and met with Mr. Pasqualucci for the first time. During the hearing, Mr. Moore advised the court that Mr. Pasqualucci contended that he was a United States citizen through his father and thus was not susceptible to deportation. Mr. Moore admitted that he did not have any evidence of Mr. Pasqualucci's citizenship. The court advised Mr. Moore that he had until July 25, 2010, to provide proof of Mr. Pasqualucci's claim of citizenship and continued the case until December 16, 2010.
At the subsequent hearing on December 16, 2010, the immigration judge was reluctant to resolve the case on the materials Mr. Moore had submitted. At the suggestion of the immigration judge, Mr. Moore requested, and was granted, a further continuance to file the N-600 Application. A fourth hearing was scheduled for August 11, 2011.
Mr. Moore did not communicate with Mr. Pasqualucci between the December 2010hearing and the August 2011 hearing, even though Mr. Pasqualucci tried to reach Mr. Moore, eventually for the purpose of terminating the representation.
When Mr. Pasqualucci finally met with Mr. Moore at the August 2011 hearing, he asked Mr. Moore why he had been so unresponsive. Mr. Moore said that he had been having "personal issues." During the hearing, Mr. Pasqualucci told the immigration judge that he wished to terminate Mr. Moore's representation and the court once again continued the case. At the hearing, Mr. Moore also asked for a continuance to file the N-600 Application, which the court again granted.
Eventually, Mr. Pasqualucci engaged another attorney who filed an application for citizenship based on Mr. Pasqualucci's prior military service. On the basis of that application, Mr. ...