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Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Mollock

Court of Appeals of Maryland

September 30, 2016

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND
v.
SHAKAIRA SIMONE MOLLOCK

          Argued: September 8, 2016

         Circuit Court for Baltimore County Case No. 03-C-15-013038

          Barbera, C.J. Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, JJ.

          OPINION

          Barbera, C.J.

         Shakaira Simone Mollock ("Respondent") was admitted to the Bar of this Court on January 6, 2012. At all times relevant to this case, she maintained an office for the practice of law in Baltimore 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 and after the disciplinary hearing recommended that we disbar Respondent for violating the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct ("MLRPC").[1] The Petition alleged that Respondent, based on her representation of Michael C. King and Marlow Bates, had violated several rules of the MLRPC: Rule 1.1 (Competence);[2] Rule 1.3 (Diligence);[3] Rule 1.4(a) and (b) (Communication);[4] Rule 1.5(a) and (b) (Fees);[5] Rule 1.15(a), (c), and (e) (Safekeeping Property);[6] Rule 1.16(d) (Declining or Terminating Representation);[7] Rule 8.1(a) and (b) (Bar Admissions and Disciplinary Matters);[8] and Rule 8.4(a), (c), and (d) (Misconduct).[9]

         By Order dated November 23, 2015, we referred the Petition to the Honorable Robert E. Cahill of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County for an evidentiary hearing and to issue findings of fact and recommended conclusions of law. On January 27, 2016, Judge Cahill entered an Order of Default against Respondent for failure to respond to the Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action, and scheduled an evidentiary hearing for March 31, 2016. At the hearing, Judge Cahill admitted Petitioner's exhibits into evidence and scheduled a second hearing date for April 13, 2016, to allow Respondent to present any evidence of mitigation. Respondent failed to appear or submit any evidence at either hearing.

         Respondent failed to take any action to vacate the Order of Default or to participate in the disciplinary proceedings in any way. On April 29, 2016, the hearing judge entered his Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. Neither party filed exceptions to these findings, and Respondent failed to offer any recommendation contrary to the Petitioner's recommendation for disbarment. We hold that Judge Cahill's findings were not clearly erroneous, and his conclusions of law were supported by clear and convincing evidence. We disbarred Respondent in a per curiam order issued September 9, 2016. Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Mollock, __ Md. __ (2016). In this opinion, we explain that decision.

         I. Background

         Judge Cahill entered the following findings of fact regarding Respondent's representation of Mr. King:

         Representation of Michael C. King

On July 24, 2013, Michael C. King retained the Respondent to represent him in defense of a pending foreclosure action styled Kristine D. Brown, et al. v. Michael C. King, Case No. 03-C-13-007057, in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. Mr. King paid the Respondent $1, 050.00 in advanced attorney's fees. The Respondent did not deposit or maintain Mr. King's funds in an attorney trust account until earned. Mr. King did not provide the Respondent with informed consent confirmed in writing to permit her to deposit his funds in any account other than a trust account.
On July 25, 2013, the Respondent filed on behalf of Mr. King a Request for Foreclosure Mediation. The Respondent failed to send a copy of the Request for Foreclosure Mediation to either the secured party or the representative of the third party as required by the Maryland Rules. As of July 25, 2013, Mr. King was not eligible for foreclosure mediation. The Respondent failed to advise Mr. King that he was not eligible for mediation.
On October 3, 2013, the foreclosure sale of Mr. King's property was held. On March 26, 2014, the foreclosure sale was ratified. The Respondent failed to advise Mr. King that his property had been sold or that the sale had been ratified. In March 2014, Mr. King, on his own initiative, discovered that his house had been sold. He contacted the Respondent who assured him that she would take appropriate remedial action. The Respondent, despite her assurances, took no action to remediate the consequences of her negligence. The Respondent, despite doing minimal work on Mr. King's behalf, failed to refund any portion of the fee that he had prepaid.
On April 25, 2014, Mr. King, through successor counsel, Leo W. Ottey, Jr., Esquire, filed a Motion to Vacate Order Ratifying Foreclosure Sale. The Substitute Trustees filed an Opposition, and a hearing was held on August 27, 2014.

         Judge Cahill further found that, on October 14, 2014, the Honorable Mickey J. Norman of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County filed a Memorandum Opinion denying Mr. King's Motion to Vacate. Judge Norman found that Respondent had not complied with Maryland Rule 14-209.1(c)(2)(A)(i), which requires a borrower filing a request for mediation to "serve a copy of the request on the other parties." The Rule also instructs that "[t]he clerk shall not accept for filing a request for postfile mediation that does not contain a certificate of service." Md. Rule 14-209.1(c)(2)(A)(i).

         Judge Norman discussed Mr. King's Request for Foreclosure Mediation ("Request"), filed by Respondent, which consisted of three pages. The bottom of page two contained a certificate of service with the following language:

I certify that I have sent a copy of this Request for Foreclosure Mediation to the Clerk of the Circuit Court and to the secured party, or the representative of the secured party, by regular U.S. mail, postage pre-paid, at the address listed at the top of this form. I have served the party that brought this foreclosure action by sending this Request for Foreclosure Mediation by regular U.S. mail, postage pre-paid, to its foreclosure attorney in (or at the address on) the addressed envelope provided with this form.

         Below this language were lines labeled "Signature of Borrower, " "Date, " and "Print Name." Rather than including the appropriate information for each line, the "Print Name" line was left blank, and above the "Signature of Borrower" and "Date" lines, written in cursive, were the words, "See attached." This notation referred to page three of the Request, which contained another certificate of service with the following language:

I hereby certify that on this 25th day of July 2013, I hand delivered a copy of the foregoing Request for Foreclosure Mediation to Baltimore County Circuit Court, 401 Bosley Avenue, Towson, Maryland 21204.

(Emphasis added.) Respondent signed the signature line following this language, accompanied by the printed text "S. Simone Mollock, Esquire / Attorney for Michael C. King."

         Based on this document, Judge Norman found that neither Mr. King nor Respondent had sent a copy of the Request to the secured party or a representative of the secured party. Therefore, the Clerk of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County ("Clerk") should not have accepted it:

It is abundantly clear, contrary to the Certificate of Service at the bottom of Page 2 of the Request, that neither the Defendant, nor his counsel, Mollock, sent a copy of the Request for Foreclosure Mediation to the secured party, or the representative of the secured party. Because it was clear that the Defendant did not properly serve the Plaintiff, the Clerk should not have accepted or docketed the Request. . . . Having failed to properly serve the Plaintiff, the Defendant was not entitled to Foreclosure Mediation.

         Accordingly, Judge Norman denied Mr. King's Motion to Vacate.

         The hearing judge continued with his findings of fact:

         Bar Counsel Investigation of Mr. King's Complaint

         On September 2, 2014, Mr. King filed a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission. By letter dated September 16, 2014, Bar Counsel forwarded Mr. King's complaint to the Respondent at the address she maintained with the Client Protection Fund and requested a written response within fifteen days. The Respondent received Bar Counsel's September 16, 2014 letter on or about September 17, 2014. As of October 8, 2014, having received no response, Bar Counsel wrote the Respondent again, at the address she maintained with the Client Protection Fund, provided her with a copy of the September 16, 2014 correspondence and requested a written response within ten days. The Respondent received Bar Counsel's October 8, 2014 letter on or about October 9, 2014.

         On October 21, 2014, Mr. King's successor attorney, Leo W. Ottey, Jr., supplemented Mr. King's complaint. As of November 10, 2014, having received no response, Bar Counsel wrote to the Respondent again at the address she maintained with the Client Protection Fund. Bar Counsel provided the Respondent with copies of the previous correspondence as well as Mr. Ottey's October 21, 2014 letter. Bar Counsel informed the Respondent that Mr. King's complaint had been docketed for further investigation and requested that she provide a response to Mr. King's complaint, a complete explanation for her failure to respond to the previous correspondence, all addresses [where] she had lived or maintained an office for the previous two years and confirmation that the Client Protection Fund maintained her current contact information. The information was to be provided no later than December 1, 2014. The Respondent received Bar Counsel's November 10, 2014 letter on or about November 11, 2014.

         On December 18, 2014, no response having been received, Edwin P. Karr, Investigator for the Attorney Grievance Commission, went to the Respondent's office to hand deliver copies of the previous correspondence. The Respondent was not present and Mr. Karr left his business card with the receptionist and asked that the Respondent contact him. On December 19, 2014 at 9:01 a.m., Mr. Karr received a text message from the Respondent. The Respondent stated: "Good morning Mr. Karr. This is Simone Mollock is it too early to call you?" At 9:02 a.m., Mr. Karr responded to the text message and stated that she could call. The Respondent did not call Mr. Karr.

         On December 22, 2014, Mr. Karr called the Respondent on her cellular phone and left a voicemail message. The Respondent did not return his call. On December 23, 2014, Mr. Karr called the Respondent's office and left a message asking the Respondent to call him. The Respondent did not return his call.

         On January 5, 2015, Mr. Karr travelled to the Respondent's office and spoke with the Respondent's receptionist. The receptionist advised Mr. Karr that Ms. Mollock was not in the office and assured him that she had delivered Mr. Karr's messages to Ms. Mollock. Later that day, Mr. Karr called the Respondent's cellular phone. The Respondent did not answer.

         On January 6, 2015, Mr. Karr left a voicemail message on the Respondent's cellular phone. The Respondent did not return Mr. Karr's call.

         On January 7, 2015, Mr. Karr obtained the Respondent's home address and telephone number. He called the Respondent's home phone number, the phone rang continuously and Mr. Karr was unable to leave a message. Later that day, Mr. Karr called the Respondent's cellular phone and received a message that the voice mailbox was full.

         On January 9, 2015, Mr. Karr travelled to the Respondent's law office. The Respondent was not present but the receptionist advised Mr. Karr that she was expected to be in at 4:30 p.m. Mr. Karr then travelled to the Respondent's home. No one was home and Mr. Karr left a business card on the front door. Later that day, Mr. Karr received a phone call from the Respondent's sister who advised that the Respondent was having a difficult time personally and described the circumstances. The Respondent's sister called Mr. Karr a short while later and advised that the Respondent would meet him at her office that afternoon. At 4:00 p.m., Mr. Karr met with the Respondent at her office and provided her with copies of the previous correspondence. The Respondent stated that her written response would be provided by January 14, 2015.

         On January 20, 2015, Bar Counsel received the Respondent's first response (dated January 13, 2014). The Respondent failed to provide any response to Mr. King's complaint but advised that she would provide same no later than January 16, 2015. As of January 26, 2015, the Respondent had not provided any additional information. On January 26, 2015, Bar Counsel wrote to the Respondent at her office and home addresses and advised her that no response had been received. The Respondent received Bar Counsel's January 26, 2015 letter on or about January 27, 2015.

         On March 12, 2015, Bar Counsel received a letter from the Respondent (dated January 15, 2015). In this letter, the Respondent misrepresented to Bar Counsel that she had spent thirty seven hours on Mr. King's case; that she contacted Wells Fargo for information about Mr. King's mortgage; that she asked Mr. King to make a $2, 000 lump sum payment toward his arrears; and that an attorney in her office agreed to file a bankruptcy petition on Mr. King's behalf pro bono. Moreover, she intentionally altered the copy of the Request for Foreclosure Mediation provided to Bar Counsel. Unlike the Request for Foreclosure Mediation filed with the Circuit Court and discussed by Judge Norman in his Memorandum Opinion, the Request for Foreclosure Mediation provided to Bar Counsel contained the following [certificate of service]:

I hereby certify that on this 25th day of July, 2013, I hand delivered a copy of the foregoing Request for Foreclosure Mediation to Kristine D. Brown, Esquire, 10021 Balls Ford Road, Suite 200, Manassas, VA 20109.

[(Emphasis added.)]

         On March 16, 2015, Bar Counsel wrote to the Respondent at the address maintained by the Client Protection Fund and requested copies of all documents created and maintained pursuant to Maryland Rule 16-606.1 for the receipt, maintenance and disbursement of Mr. King's funds including, but not limited to, client ledgers, escrow account statements and any cancelled checks. The requested information was to be provided no later than March 30, 2015. The Respondent received the March 16, 2015 letter on or about March 17, 2015. The Respondent failed to ever provide the requested information and documentation.

         Representation of Marlow Bates

         In November 2013, Marlow Bates retained the Respondent to file a petition for writ of coram nobis. At the time, Mr. Bates was in federal custody. The Respondent charged Mr. Bates a flat fee [of] $1, 400 for filing the Petition. Mr. Bates' sister, India Bates, paid the fee [in] full on his behalf. The Respondent did not deposit the funds for the benefit of Mr. Bates into an attorney trust account. Neither Mr. Bates nor his sister provided the Respondent with informed consent confirmed in writing to permit her to deposit the funds in any account other than a trust account.

         During the pendency of the representation, the Respondent met with Mr. Bates approximately four times to discuss [his] request for coram nobis relief. The Respondent repeatedly misrepresented to Mr. Bates and members of his family that she was making progress on his case, and that she had filed a Petition for Writ of Coram Nobis on Mr. Bates' behalf. The Respondent failed to perform any work on behalf of Mr. Bates and failed to file a petition for writ of corum nobis.

         The Respondent failed to communicate with Mr. Bates and his family members with whom the Respondent had been authorized to speak. Eventually, Mr. Bates terminated the representation and requested a refund. The Respondent refused to return the funds received for the benefit of Mr. Bates, claiming that the fees were earned. The Respondent failed to deposit and maintain the disputed funds into an attorney trust account until resolution of the dispute.

         Bar Counsel Investigation of Mr. Bates' Complaint

         On November 3, 2014, Mr. Bates filed a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission. By letter dated November 6, 2014, Bar Counsel forwarded Mr. Bates' complaint to the Respondent at the address she maintained with the Client Protection Fund and requested a written response within fifteen days. The Respondent received Bar Counsel's November 6, 2014 letter on or about November 7, 2014. As of December 16, 2014, having received no response, Bar Counsel wrote the Respondent again at the address she maintained with the Client Protection Fund, provided her with a copy of the November 6, 2014 correspondence and requested a written response within ten days. The Respondent received Bar Counsel's December 16, 2014 letter on or about December 17, 2014.

         As of January 26, 2015, having received no response, Bar Counsel wrote to the Respondent again at the address she maintained with the Client Protection Fund. Bar Counsel provided the Respondent with copies of the previous correspondence and informed the Respondent that Mr. Bates' complaint had been docketed for further investigation. Bar Counsel requested that the Respondent provide a response to Mr. Bates' complaint, a complete explanation for her failure to respond to the previous correspondence, a complete copy of Mr. Bates' client file and all documents created and maintained for the receipt, maintenance and disbursement of Mr. Bates' funds pursuant to Maryland Rule 16-606.1. The information and documentation was to be provided no later than February 16, 2015. The Respondent received Bar Counsel's January 26, 2015 letter on or about January 27, 2015.

         On March 4, 2015, having not received any response, [Mr. Karr] left a voicemail message for the Respondent at her home asking that she contact him. Later that day at 11:07 a.m., the Respondent texted Mr. Karr and stated: "Good morning Mr. Karr, is everything okay? I'm wrapping up court. I'll call you as soon as I leave." Mr. Karr responded at 11:13 a.m. stating: "Pls call it is regarding a complaint." The Respondent did not call or contact Mr. Karr.

         On March 9, 2015, Mr. Karr travelled to the Respondent's law office. The Respondent was not present but the receptionist advised that the Respondent still worked in the office. Mr. Karr left a business card with the receptionist along with instructions that the Respondent should contact him immediately. Also on March 9, 2015, Mr. Karr travelled to the Respondent's home. No one answered the door and Mr. Karr left a business card with [the] instruction that the Respondent contact him immediately.

         On March 10, 2015 at 1:19 p.m., Mr. Karr texted the Respondent, "Ms. Mollock you need to contact me ASAP." The Respondent failed to respond. On March 11, 2015, Mr. Karr left a voicemail message for the Respondent on her cellular phone.

         On March 12, 2015, Mr. Karr again travelled to the Respondent's home. The Respondent's daughter advised Mr. Karr that the Respondent was not home. Mr. Karr asked the Respondent's daughter to advise the Respondent to contact him immediately. The Respondent failed to communicate with Mr. Karr in any manner.

         As of March 16, 2015, having received no response, Bar Counsel wrote to the Respondent again at the address she maintained with the Client Protection Fund. Bar Counsel provided the Respondent with copies of the previous correspondence and reminded her of her obligation to respond to Bar Counsel. The Respondent received Bar Counsel's March 16, 2015 letter on or about March 17, 2015. The Respondent never provided any response to Bar Counsel regarding Mr. Bates' complaint.

         Judge Cahill then recommended the following conclusions of law:

         CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         This [c]ourt finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that the Respondent violated the following Rules of the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct:

         Rule 1.1. Competence.

         Rule 1.1 provides: "A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation."

         The [c]ourt finds the Respondent violated Rule 1.1 in the King and Bates matters for the reasons stated in reference to violations of Rules 1.3, 1.4, 1.5 and 1.15 below.

         Rule 1.3. Diligence.

         Rule 1.3 provides: "A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness ...


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