Argued: October 13, 2016
Court for Prince George's County Case No. CAE15-30633
Barbera, C.J., Greene Adkins McDonald Watts Hotten Getty, JJ.
October 13, 2015, Petitioner, the Attorney Grievance
Commission of Maryland, acting through Bar Counsel, filed in
this Court a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action
("Petition") against Respondent, Dalton F.
Phillips. The Petition alleged violations of Maryland
Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct (the
"Rules") 3.1 (Meritorious Claims and Contentions);
5.3 (Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants); 5.4
(Professional Independence of a Lawyer); 5.5 (Unauthorized
Practice of Law); 7.5 (Firm Names and Letterheads); 8.1 (Bar
Admission and Disciplinary Matters); and 8.4 (Misconduct).
Respondent's professional misconduct stems from his
ratification of the unauthorized practice of law by a
non-attorney, followed by a series of material falsehoods
made to Bar Counsel, refusal to provide information requested
by Bar Counsel, and other obstruction during the
to Maryland Rules 16-752(a) and 16-757, this Court
transmitted the case to the Circuit Court for Prince
George's County and designated the Honorable Sean D.
Wallace to conduct an evidentiary hearing and make findings
of fact and conclusions of law. The hearing was held on April
27, 2016. Respondent testified and presented evidence on his
behalf. On May 19, 2016, the hearing judge issued written
findings of fact and conclusions of law, concluding that
Respondent violated Rule 3.1, 5.3(c), 5.4(d), 5.5(a), 7.5(d),
8.1(a) and (b), and 8.4(a), (c), and (d).
exceptions were filed. Respondent made no written
recommendation regarding sanction; Petitioner recommended
disbarment. On October 13, 2016, we heard oral argument, at
which only Petitioner appeared. On October 14, 2016, we
issued a per curiam order disbarring Respondent. Attorney
Grievance Comm'n v. Phillips, 450 Md. 246 (2016). We
explain in this opinion the reasons for that action. On
November 28, 2016, Respondent filed a paper titled
"Respondent's Opposition to the Per Curiam Order
filed by the Court of Appeals." We have treated the
paper as a motion for reconsideration of the Order of
Disbarment and, upon review of the motion, we hereby deny it.
summarize here the record and the hearing judge's
findings of fact and conclusions of law, supported by clear
and convincing evidence.
Dalton Phillips was admitted to the Maryland Bar in May 1981.
He practiced law for over 35 years. His son, Solon Phillips,
graduated from law school in 2008 and in 2011 sought
admission to the Maryland Bar. He has not been admitted to
the Bar in Maryland or any other jurisdiction.
August 2009, Solon Phillips caused Articles of Organization
to be filed with the Maryland Department of Assessments and
Taxation establishing a law firm titled Phillips, Phillips
and Dow LLC, to include Respondent, Solon Phillips, and a
friend of Solon's, Anthony Dow. It is unclear from the
record whether Mr. Dow, evidently a practicing lawyer in
Georgia, knew that his name was listed as a member of the
Phillips discussed the formation of the firm with Respondent.
Solon Phillips created a law firm insignia; hired an
answering service for the firm; reserved a domain name; and
created and ordered letterhead that included the firm name,
Solon Phillips's home address, the phone number
associated with the answering service, and the firm website.
He also ordered business cards for himself using the firm
insignia and the suffix "Esq.". Respondent agreed
to be a member of the firm and reviewed the firm logo
prepared by Solon Phillips.
point, Solon Phillips met Crystal Meehan through a Facebook
support group for individuals experiencing marital discord
and became Facebook friends with her. Crystal Meehan is a
resident of Indiana. Solon Phillips and Crystal Meehan
corresponded in May 2014 regarding unwanted communications
that Crystal Meehan had been receiving from her
ex-husband's current wife, Abigail Meehan. Solon Phillips
prepared for Crystal Meehan a cease and desist letter
ordering Abigail Meehan to discontinue all communications
with Crystal Meehan, alleging that Abigail Meehan's
communications constituted harassment, and threatening legal
action. He corresponded over e-mail with Crystal Meehan,
provided her with a draft of the letter signed "Solon
Phillips JD/MBA", and received her approval of the
letter. He then printed the letter on Phillips, Phillips and
Dow, LLC letterhead. The content of the final letter was
altered in only one regard-Solon Phillips signed
Respondent's name to the letter, not his own.
Meehan received the letter and began attempting to contact
the firm. On May 19 and 20, 2014, Abigail Meehan called the
number listed in the letter. Someone answered the phone and
advised her that, although the attorney was unavailable, she
should comply with the letter. On May 20, Solon Phillips
e-mailed Crystal Meehan informing her that Abigail Meehan had
called the firm's number and asked why a Maryland firm
would send a cease and desist letter to her in Indiana. The
e-mail exchange between the two included Solon Phillips
advising Crystal Meehan that, "[i]f [Abigail Meehan]
continues you can go to the police and press charges in IN,
" specifically, a charge of harassment.
hearing judge found: "Meanwhile, Abigail Meehan, growing
increasingly suspicious of the firm, conducted online
searches and eventually obtained the Respondent's phone
number." On May 28, Abigail Meehan called and spoke with
Respondent for a few minutes regarding the letter. Respondent
told her that he knew nothing about the letter and stated
that Phillips, Phillips and Dow, LLC was his son's law
firm. Following the conversation, Abigail Meehan e-mailed
Respondent an image of the letter and its envelope, and
requested an e-mail confirming that Respondent did not
represent Crystal Meehan.
29, 2014, Respondent e-mailed Abigail Meehan the following:
Dear Ms. Meehan:
Greetings! I am responding to your email regarding a Cease
and Desist letter you received from the law firm of Phillips,
Phillips and Dow, LLC (the Law Firm). As I had advised you
during our brief telephone conversation on May 28, 2014, I
was unaware of the Cease and Desist letter you received from
the Law Firm. I have been able to confirm, however, that the
Law Firm does in fact represent Ms. Crystal Meehan. A junior
attorney for the firm sent out the letter you received
without advising me of the Law Firm's representation of
Ms. Meehan or discussing the letter with me. This is contrary
to our practice, which requires my review of every
correspondence written on the Law Firm's letterhead and
under my name.
Even though the letter was issued without my knowledge, the
fact remains that Ms. Crystal Meehan is a client of the Law
Firm. If Crystal Meehan is so disturbed by your alleged
communications that she hired an attorney to discourage them,
in the interest of peace and harmony, I believe that you
should seriously consider not contacting her. If you are a
person of peace, as I believe you are, you would demonstrate
good judgment and wisdom by simply avoiding attempts at
correspondence or communication with Crystal Meehan; no good
ever evolves from unwelcomed communications.
Understandably, you were upset by the contents of the letter.
I suggest that you ruminate on the matter for a few days
before doing anything. Sometimes, the most powerful action is
no action at all.
Dalton F. Phillips, Esquire.
17, Abigail Meehan replied in an e-mail to Respondent's
May 29 e-mail. She wrote: "Since your firm is
representing Ms. Crystal Meehan, I will need you[r] address
so that I can send you documents." The e-mail was sent
to Respondent and copied Solon Phillips. A few minutes later,
Solon Phillips replied to Abigail Meehan's e-mail,
copying Respondent and stating:
Our firm is not representing Ms. Crystal Meehan. Furthermore,
your attempts to continue to contact members of our firm is
inappropriate and borders harassment.
This e-mail is to demand all communications with our firm to
Thank you for understanding.
The Complaint and Bar Counsel's Investigation
about June 8, 2014, Abigail Meehan filed a complaint with the
Attorney Grievance Commission regarding Respondent's
conduct and enclosed the cease and desist letter and
Respondent's May 29 e-mail. She stated the following:
This attorney sent me a cease and desist letter claiming to
represent my husband's ex-wife. When I called him, he
told me he had no knowledge of this then later he emailed me
telling me someone sent it from his firm and she is
represented. How is he sending me legal letters if
he isn't licensed to practice in Indiana!
letter dated June 19, 2014, Bar Counsel forwarded a copy of
the complaint to Respondent and requested a response. On June
23, 2014, Respondent replied by letter stating:
After seeing the Firm's name and symbol on the envelope
in which the letter was mailed, I wrote Ms. Abigail Meehan
the polite email that she has attached to her
complaint…. After sending the email, I had an
opportunity to review the letter that Ms. Abigail Meehan
alleged I had sent to her husband's ex-wife and also
speak to a member of our law firm…. I have learned
also that our Firm does not represent Ms. Crystal
Meehan and no one in the Firm seems to have heard of her
prior to this incident…. After I had sent that single
email to Ms. Abigail Meehan, for example, I learned that she
has contacted our Firm about the matter on several occasions,
despite having been told that the firm does not represent Ms.
Crystal Meehan. After she persisted in contacting the Firm,
she was advised that legal action would be taken against her
if she continued her unwelcomed communications. In
persistently contacting our Firm, she evinces a remarkably
consistent modus operandi.
Counsel wrote Respondent on August 7, 2014. That letter
states in pertinent part:
In the email enclosed with the original complaint, dated May
29, 2014, you state "I have been able to confirm,
however, that the Law Firm does in fact represent Ms. Crystal
Meehan. A junior attorney for the firm sent out the letter
you received without advising me of the Law Firm's
representation of Ms. Meehan or discussing the letter with
me." Provide the name of the junior attorney you
reference in your email to Ms. Meehan.
letter dated August 12, 2014, Respondent replied to Bar
Counsel's letter. Respondent refused to supply the name
of the person he had "assumed" was the person who
wrote the letter, stating that he had been wrong in making
that assumption: "I was mistaken when I stated that a
junior attorney wrote the letter…. No one with whom I
am associated knows Ms. Meehan. I am not going to compound my
error by naming the person
wrongly suspected." Respondent added:
You have also asked how many attorneys are employed with my
law firm. In preparation for my retirement from Federal
service at the end of this year, I am in the process of
establishing a law firm. It is in the developmental stage and
no attorneys have been employed at this time. I regret that
the Commission is asking me to spend time responding to
something of which I know nothing and on a Complaint that on
its face do [sic] not allege any type of violation.
receiving this communication, Bar Counsel informed Respondent
by letter dated September 24, 2014, that the Attorney
Grievance Commission had docketed a complaint against him and
Bar Counsel would be investigating. The letter requested
Respondent's availability for a meeting the week of
October 20, 2014, and reminded Respondent that Rule 8.1
requires a lawyer to respond to lawful demands for
information by a disciplinary authority.
never replied to this letter with his availability, and Bar
Counsel was forced to begin a lengthy and arduous process to
get Respondent to talk to her. On October 3, 2014, Bar
Counsel called Respondent to request his availability for a
meeting, but Respondent refused to provide any dates before
January 2015. Bar Counsel asked again following some
conversation, and Respondent again refused. When Bar Counsel
stated that she would issue a subpoena if necessary and
select a date, Respondent evidently hung up the phone. Bar
Counsel followed the conversation with a letter to Respondent
memorializing their phone call of earlier that same day ...