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In re Application of Brown

Court of Appeals of Maryland

August 24, 2016

IN THE MATTER OF THE APPLICATION OF DEIRDRE PAULETTE BROWN FOR ADMISSION TO THE BAR OF MARYLAND

          Argued: May 4, 2016

          Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Battaglia, Lynne A. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Hotten, J.

         We consider whether to grant the application for admission to the Bar of Maryland of Deirdre Paulette Brown ("Ms. Brown"), who failed to disclose a prior felony theft charge on her application for admission and provided no credible explanation for her omission; intentionally misrepresented her grade point average ("GPA") on her law school resume in order to enhance her qualifications with a prospective employer; and demonstrated a pattern of financial irresponsibility with credit account debt.

         The Character Committee for the Seventh Appellate Circuit ("Committee") recommended Ms. Brown's admission to the Bar of Maryland by a vote of three to two. The State Board of Law Examiners ("Board") voted four to three to adopt the recommendation of the Committee. Upon consideration of the recommendations of the Committee and the Board, and based upon our independent review of the record, we hold that Ms. Brown has not met the burden of establishing that she currently possesses the requisite moral character and fitness for admission to the Bar.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         Ms. Brown graduated from law school in the Spring of 2012. On May 21, 2012, Ms. Brown filed an application with the Board for admission to the Bar of Maryland pursuant to Md. Rule 19-202 (formerly Rule 2 of the Rules Governing Admission to the Bar of Maryland).[2] Ms. Brown's application was forwarded to Stuart Herschfeld ("Mr. Herschfeld") for review and the required investigatory interview, pursuant to Md. Rule 19-203(a)(1) (formerly Rule 5(b)(1) of the Rules Governing Admission to the Bar of Maryland).[3] Thereafter, Mr. Herschfeld requested that Ms. Brown supplement her application to address the status of outstanding debts and the criminal and civil matters noted in her file. Although Ms. Brown supplemented her file, Mr. Herschfeld believed that the information provided failed to address his concerns regarding her application and raised additional questions regarding Ms. Brown's misrepresentation of her law school grades and her academic probation during college.

         Thereafter, Ms. Brown refused to provide further information to supplement her file, because she was unsuccessful on the July 2012 Maryland Bar Examination. When Ms. Brown passed the February 2013 Examination, she contacted Mr. Herschfeld to inquire about the status of her Bar application. On May 23, 2013, Mr. Herschfeld issued a memorandum recommending against Ms. Brown's admission, which stated, in relevant part:

         My decision is premised upon the following:

1. While she did not disclose in her application the academic issue regarding a misrepresentation of her GPA for which she was sanctioned by her law school, I found her explanation troubling as she readily admits that she made the representation deliberately to gain a benefit in job search opportunities. Subsequently, there was some documentation provided that further muddied the issue rather than clarifying it as is demonstrated in this file.
2. Ms. Brown never provided a full explanation and response regarding the various outstanding balances to creditors as well as to update me regarding the status of debts that she was not aware of at the time of our interview as to how she was planning to resolve these outstanding debts.
There are other matters that certainly may not weigh in her favor regarding the application, but these are the two primary reasons for which I cannot recommend her as an applicant to the State of Maryland Bar at this time.

         On June 7, 2013, the Chair of the Committee, Benjamin Vaughan ("Mr. Vaughan"), submitted a letter to Ms. Brown, advising her of Mr. Herschfeld's recommendation and her right to a hearing pursuant to Md. Rule 19-203(a)(2) (formerly 5(b)(2) of the Rules Governing Admission to the Bar of Maryland).[4] Hearings were held before the Committee on February 23 and April 14, 2015, to address the facts and circumstances concerning the following matters: past criminal charges against Ms. Brown of making a false statement to a police officer and felony theft; her failure to disclose the theft charge on her Bar application; her financial irresponsibility; a reprimand from Ms. Brown's law school for falsifying information on her resume; and whether the foregoing events reflected a cumulative pattern of dishonesty, a lack of candor, and a failure to honor legal commitments. In attendance were several committee members, including the Mr. Herschfeld, who testified regarding his recommendation and the reasons supporting his position. Ms. Brown appeared without counsel, testified on her own behalf, and offered into evidence additional documentation requested by the Committee concerning a statement of criminal charges and an academic reprimand letter from her law school.

         Subsequently, on August 4, 2015, the Committee issued a report, which included two written dissents, recommending by a three to two vote that Ms. Brown be admitted to the Bar of Maryland. The Committee rendered the following findings of fact and conclusions, which we summarize:

         Outstanding and Delinquent Debts

         Ms. Brown reported five credit accounts that were delinquent for more than ninety days: 1) Westlake Financial Services, with an unpaid balance of $ 9, 973; 2) Santander Consumer USA, with an unpaid balance of $ 4, 789; 3) Midland Credit Management, Inc., with an unpaid balance of $720; 4) HSBC Bank, with an unpaid balance of $1, 014; and 5) Afni, Inc., with an unpaid balance of $260. During Ms. Brown's October 2012 interview, Mr. Herschfeld believed that Ms. Brown was unclear regarding the status of the unpaid balances and her ability to satisfy the arrearages. Mr. Herschfeld sought specific information regarding the debts, and exchanged several e-mails with Ms. Brown in connection with his requests. In a letter dated November 15, 2012, Ms. Brown indicated that she had no additional documentation regarding her creditors. In Mr. Herschfeld's May 2013 memorandum, he recalled Ms. Brown's assertion that the resolution of any issues with her creditors was not relevant, since she did not pass the bar examination.

         However, on February 22, 2015, Ms. Brown submitted additional documentation reflecting that all five outstanding loan balances were resolved. Ms. Brown further explained:

My problems with past debt have been due to poor financial planning on my part. I have learned from this and have re-paid all accounts that I owed. As evidence of my ability to be financially responsible I have two open accounts that are in good standing. A Wells Fargo Credit Card opened in 2012 and a Capital One automobile loan opened in 2013.

         The Committee did not discover any information that "contradict[ed]" or "call[ed] into question[, ]" Ms. Brown's most recent representation regarding her outstanding debts, and therefore, was satisfied that she demonstrated her character and moral fitness for the practice of law with respect to her credit account debt.

         Criminal Charges

         In 1992, Ms. Brown was charged with making a false statement to a police officer and felony theft. She only disclosed the charge of making a false statement on her Bar application. The charges arose from an alleged robbery that occurred on or about October 10, 1992, while Ms. Brown was a manager in a retail clothing store in Prince George's County. The charging document for the false statement reflected the following:

[Ms. Brown] made a report that she was the victim of a robbery. [Ms. Brown] stated that she left the T/A and was on her way to make the night deposit, when a black male grabbed her and pulled her into a deserted hallway. [Ms. Brown] said that she dropped her hand bag [and] the deposit bag and ran back into the main hallway to call for help. [A mall employee] who was closing up her ear piercing booth stated that she observed [Ms. Brown] walking past her booth and there was no one else in the [hallway] at the time. [T]he mall was closed. The ear piercing booth is located [approximately] twenty feet from the hallway of the alleged incident. [The mall employee] also stated that [Ms. Brown] walked calmly out of the hallway as though nothing was wrong. Landover Mall Security SPO Grey who was at the outside entrance to the hallway stated that no one came out of the hallway.
This investigator checked the [hallway] [and] there is no way the alleged suspect could have escaped through the hallway without being seen. A check with the District Manager . . . indicated that [Ms. Brown] was not allowed to make deposits by herself. Ms. Brown stated the opposite[.] Ms. Brown stated that her boyfriend . . . was in the area of the T/A at around 9:00 [p.m.] but only stayed for about five minutes. SPO Gray and SPO Chase both security guards at the [L]andover [M]all indicated that they both observed the boyfriend around the T/A until closing at 10:00 [p.m.] The boyfriend [then] re-appeared from the opposite side of the mall just after the robbery [(alleged)]. A total of $1, 817 was allegedly taken from [ ] the District manager who is responsible for T/A funds.
On [October 12, 1992] this investigator was assigned this case for follow-up investigation. After talking to the persons mentioned in this application based on this investigator['s] training and experience, the statements made to P/O Officer Neel 1776 on [October 10, 2012] concerning this robbery are false. . . .

         Ms. Brown denied making a false statement during her October 2012 interview and during the hearings.

         Ms. Brown's charge for felony theft in connection with the 1992 incident was not reported on her Bar application. Question Number 12 of the application required that she provide "a complete record of all criminal proceedings (including traffic citations, arrests, and summonses) to which [she is or has ever been] a party. . . ." Ms. Brown testified that she did not disclose the theft charge because she was not aware of it.

         She explained that when she initially sought the criminal records from the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, she was only provided documents relating to the false statement charge. The record reflects that the felony theft charge was listed under a separate case number, but a part of the October 1992 incident. At the request of the Committee, Ms. Brown produced a copy of the Statement of Charges, which indicated that she was charged with theft in excess of $300 cash from New Retail Concepts.

         Docket entries revealed that both charges were placed on the stet[5] docket on September 20, 1993.[6] The record does not reflect convictions for either charge. During Ms. Brown's testimony, she recalled that at the direction of a Public Defender, she pled "not guilty[, ]" but agreed to accept the stet. Ms. Brown further testified that she subsequently hired an attorney to remove the charges from the stet docket before the stated time period, after being advised that she should not have accepted it. The record does not reflect whether Ms. Brown's attempt was successful. The Committee concluded that the charges did not reflect negatively on Ms. Brown's character, given their remoteness in time, the fact that they were placed on the stet docket, and did not result in convictions. The Committee found that Ms. Brown was "entirely candid" in discussing the charges before them.

         Academic Reprimand for ...


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