Argued: March 4, 2016
Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, Maryland Case No. CAE15-13637
Barbera, C.J., [*]Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, JJ.
This attorney discipline proceeding involves a lawyer who was only licensed to practice in the District of Columbia, yet represented a defendant pro bono for a criminal proceeding in a Maryland District Court, sitting in Prince George's County ("District Court"), and made a false statement to Bar Counsel regarding his pro hac vice admission to the Maryland Bar.
Larry D. Hunt ("Respondent") was admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia on November 1, 1999, and at all times relevant to this case, maintained a law office in Washington, D.C.
The Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland ("Petitioner"), filed a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action against Respondent on February 27, 2015. Petitioner requested that this Court take appropriate disciplinary action against Respondent for violating the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct ("MLRPC") (Md. Rule 16-812) during his unauthorized representation of Jaimel Fatin Peace ("Mr. Peace") in the District Court. Petitioner alleged violations of MLRPC 1.1 (Competence), 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4 (Communication), 5.5 (Unauthorized Practice of Law, Multijurisdictional Practice of Law), 8.1 (Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters), and 8.4 (Misconduct).
This Court, by an order dated March 17, 2015, transmitted the action to the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, and designated the Honorable Albert W. Northrop ("the hearing judge") to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law. On November 2, 2015, a hearing was held, and on November 25, 2015, the hearing judge issued Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. The hearing judge found that Respondent violated MLRPC 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 5.5(a) and (b), 8.1(a), and 8.4(a), (b), (c), and (d).
On March 4, 2016, we heard oral argument. For the reasons outlined below, we uphold the hearing judge's Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, and order that Respondent be suspended from the practice of law for 60 days.
a. The hearing judge's findings of fact
The hearings judge's findings of fact, beginning with Respondent's representation of Mr. Peace, were as follows:
On March 13, 2013, Jaimel Fatin Peace ("Mr. Peace") was arrested for possession of controlled dangerous substances ("CDS") – not marijuana. On April 8, 2013, Respondent appeared on Mr. Peace's behalf for a preliminary hearing … in the District Court for Prince George's County. Respondent represented Mr. Peace on a pro bono basis. During the April 8, 2013, hearing, Respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss on Mr. Peace's behalf as his attorney. Respondent's Motion to Dismiss did not contain a Certificate of Service. During the April 8, 2013, preliminary hearing, the court set Mr. Peace's criminal hearing for June 27, 2013. On or about June 11, 2013, Respondent filed a "Motion to Withdraw as Counsel for Defendant" in Mr. Peace's case. Respondent's Motion to Withdraw did not contain a Certificate of Service. On June 12, 2013, Respondent's Motion to Withdraw was denied because it did not have a Certificate of Service. Mr. Peace's criminal proceeding occurred on June 27, 2013. Although Respondent was still counsel of Record for Mr. Peace, he was not present during the June 27, 2013 hearing.
On July 2, 2013, the Honorable Thomas J. Love issued a Show Cause Order for Respondent to appear before him in court on August 29, 2013 due to Respondent's failure to appear at the June 27, 2013 hearing. Judge Love also rescheduled Mr. Peace's criminal hearing for August 29, 2013. On or about July 24, 2013, Respondent filed a Motion to request that the court dismiss the Show Cause order and grant his Motion to Withdraw from Mr. Peace's case. Respondent's Certificate of Service for his July 24, 2013 Motion listed Mr. Peace's address instead of opposing counsel's address. On or about August 6, 2013, the court denied Respondent's July 24, 2013 Motion. Respondent failed to appear at the Show Cause hearing scheduled on August 29, 2013.
On October 3, 2013, Judge Love filed a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission- Office of Bar Counsel.
On December 13, 2013, Bar Counsel wrote to Respondent stating inter alia, "If you are not a Maryland Attorney, please advise this office whether you were admitted pro hac vice in the underlying matter of State v. Jaimel Fatin Peace." On February 4, 2014, Respondent sent Bar Counsel a response to its December 13, 2013 letter. Respondent stated in his February 4, 2014 letter: "However, please be advised that I am not an attorney licensed in Maryland, but was being admitted pro hac vice in the underlying matter of State v. Jaimel Fatin Peace before Mr. Peace informed me that he [sic] longer wanted me to repr[e]sent him in the above-referenced matter."
Respondent testified in his deposition for this matter that he contacted Maryland attorney Bruce Johnson, Esquire sometime during mid-2013 concerning Mr. Johnson sponsoring his pro hac vice admission to Maryland. However, Respondent failed to take any discernable steps to file a pro hac vice motion in Maryland before representing Mr. Peace.
b. The hearing judge's conclusions of law
Based on the above findings of fact, the hearing judge concluded that Respondent violated MLRPC 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 5.5(a) and (b), 8.1(a), and 8.4(a), (b), (c), and (d).
MLRPC 1.1 requires that "[a] lawyer … provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation." The hearing judge concluded that "Respondent's admitted ignorance of the Maryland Rules and repeated errors in filing his Motions violated [MLRPC] 1.1." The hearing judge observed that ...