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Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Thomas-Bellamy

Court of Appeals of Maryland

November 22, 2016

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland
v.
Sandy F. Thomas-Bellamy

          Argued October 6, 2016

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

          OPINION

          McDonald, J.

         The Attorney Grievance Commission ("Commission") initiated this reciprocal attorney discipline action against Sandy F. Thomas-Bellamy based on discipline imposed on her last year by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. That court suspended her from the practice of law in the District of Columbia for one year, with reinstatement conditioned on a showing of fitness, for making a deliberate misrepresentation in 2012 on her District of Columbia Bar application. In accordance with Maryland Rule 19-737, we impose corresponding discipline in Maryland - an indefinite suspension of Ms. Thomas-Bellamy's license to practice law in Maryland with the right to apply for reinstatement after one year. We do not find exceptional circumstances that would justify, under the rule, a greater or lesser sanction in Maryland.

         Background

         Ms. Thomas-Bellamy was admitted to the Maryland Bar in June 1999. She was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in November 2012.

         Although this is a reciprocal discipline case emanating from the District of Columbia, its genesis was a prior investigation by the Commission into several complaints made by clients of Ms. Thomas-Bellamy concerning her practice in Maryland. That investigation resulted in disciplinary proceedings in Maryland, as well as a reciprocal disciplinary action in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. It is the pendency of that Maryland investigation - and specifically, Ms. Thomas-Bellamy's failure to disclose it when she was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar - that resulted in both a second disciplinary proceeding in the District of Columbia, and this proceeding in this Court.

         The Commission's Initial Investigation

         In late 2011 and early 2012, four of Ms. Thomas-Bellamy's Maryland clients separately complained to the Commission about the services she provided - or, more precisely, the lack of services. The complaints had a common pattern. Each client had asked Ms. Thomas-Bellamy to file a bankruptcy petition on the client's behalf and had paid Ms. Thomas-Bellamy money for filing fees and professional services. Thereafter, Ms. Thomas-Bellamy did not promptly file the bankruptcy petitions and failed to respond to inquiries from the clients. The Commission launched an investigation.

         Ms. Thomas-Bellamy Applies for Admission to the District of Columbia Bar

         On January 9, 2012, Ms. Thomas-Bellamy submitted an application for admission to the District of Columbia Bar. On that application, she indicated that she had never been the "subject of any charges, complaints, or grievances (formal or informal) concerning [her] conduct as an attorney, including any now pending, " and attested that all information on the application was "true and complete." From the record before us, there is no indication that she knew about the Maryland client complaints, or the Commission's investigation, at the time she completed that application. However, it was not long before she became aware of them.

         On May 14, 2012, Ms. Thomas-Bellamy signed a return receipt indicating that she had received a letter from the Commission regarding its investigation into the complaints of her Maryland clients. Additionally, on June 25, 2012, she responded to one of the client complaints in a letter to the Commission.

         On November 15, 2012, the day before she was to be sworn into the District of Columbia Bar, Ms. Thomas-Bellamy completed a supplemental questionnaire in connection with her application for admission. In her response to an item on that questionnaire, she reiterated that there were no "charges or complaints now pending concerning [her] conduct as an attorney . . . ." As Ms. Thomas-Bellamy concedes, that was not true, and she knew it was not true when she completed the supplemental questionnaire. She was sworn into the District of Columbia Bar the next day.

         Resolution of Maryland Investigation of Client Complaints

         In the meantime, Ms. Thomas-Bellamy cooperated in the Commission's investigation of the Maryland client complaints. She also completed her work on the bankruptcy petitions for three of the clients to their satisfaction and refunded the money paid by the fourth client.

         After the Commission completed its investigation, the Commission and Ms. Thomas-Bellamy filed with this Court a Joint Petition for Indefinite Suspension by consent. The Joint Petition outlined her client communication failures, but noted that she had resolved each of the client complaints. The Joint Petition also described Ms. Thomas-Bellamy's failure to maintain appropriate records concerning her attorney trust account and to file timely tax returns (apparently due in part to mistakes by the accountant she originally hired for that purpose).[1] In the Joint Petition, the parties agreed that an appropriate sanction would be an indefinite suspension from the practice law in Maryland with the right to apply for reinstatement no sooner than six months from the date of suspension.

         On March 28, 2014, this Court accepted the Joint Petition and the agreed disposition, and suspended Ms. Thomas-Bellamy indefinitely from the practice of law in Maryland with the right to apply for reinstatement after six months. Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Thomas-Bellamy, 437 Md. 606 (2014). Since that time Ms. Thomas-Bellamy has not petitioned for reinstatement and remains suspended from the practice of law in Maryland.

         Reciprocal Proceedings in the ...


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