Argued: April 3, 2017
Court for Prince George's County Case No. CAE16-18400
Barbera, C.J., Greene Adkins McDonald Watts Hotten Getty, JJ.
Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, acting through Bar
Counsel, filed two Petitions for Disciplinary or Remedial
Action against Respondent, Denise Leona Bellamy, in
connection with seven separate complaints filed against her.
Bar Counsel later moved to consolidate the two petitions for
judicial hearing, post-hearing proceedings, and disposition,
and we granted that motion. Pursuant to Maryland Rules
19-722(a) and 19-727, this Court transmitted both cases to
the Circuit Court for Prince George's County and
designated the Honorable John Paul Davey to conduct an
evidentiary hearing and make findings of fact and conclusions
failed to respond to the charges filed against her, and
therefore the hearing judge entered an Order of Default on
October 19, 2016. A hearing was held on December 2, 2016.
Respondent did not appear at the hearing and has not
presented any evidence or arguments on her behalf at any
point throughout these proceedings.
Counsel filed Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of
Law and presented the Commission's case before the
hearing judge. The hearing judge granted Bar Counsel's
request for admission of facts and genuineness of documents
and treated the factual assertions included therein as
established. On January 23, 2017, the hearing judge signed an
Order adopting Bar Counsel's Proposed Findings of Fact
and Conclusions of Law. Respondent has filed no exceptions.
summarize here those findings of fact and conclusions of law.
Hearing Judge's Findings of Fact
Prior Disciplinary History
was admitted to the Maryland Bar on December 13, 2005. She
was suspended from the practice of law in Maryland by consent
for a period of ninety days, beginning October 11, 2012, due
to a prior disciplinary proceeding in which she was found to
have violated Rules 1.3, 1.15, and 1.16(d) of the former
Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct
("MLRPC"). It was determined in that proceeding that
Respondent, after being discharged in two matters, failed to
return retainer fees to which she was not entitled.
Respondent was reinstated to the practice of law on January
March 24, 2016, Respondent was temporarily suspended for
failure to pay her annual assessment to the Client Protection
Fund of Maryland. She remained suspended as of the filing
date of the two Petitions for Disciplinary or Remedial Action
that are before us in this proceeding. Complaint of Cindy
about April 2, 2014, Cindy Kamara hired Respondent to
represent her in a civil matter before the District Court
sitting in Prince George's County. They executed a
retainer agreement, and Ms. Kamara paid Respondent $500.
Respondent did not deposit that money into an attorney trust
account and did not maintain records pursuant to former
Maryland Rule 16-606.1. Instead, she converted the money to
her own use before earning it. Respondent did little to no
work in connection with the case, failing to enter her
appearance on behalf of Ms. Kamara or file an action on her
behalf. Respondent failed to return Ms. Kamara's phone
calls in May and June 2014 and, after arranging to meet Ms.
Kamara in July, canceled the meeting and failed to
reschedule. On or about October 29, 2014, Ms. Kamara demanded
a refund. Respondent never refunded the retainer fees and
never gave Ms. Kamara her client file.
Kamara filed a complaint against Respondent with the Attorney
Grievance Commission. Bar Counsel three times forwarded the
complaint with a request for information, but Respondent
never replied. A Commission investigator later hand-delivered
all three of Bar Counsel's letters to Respondent.
Respondent told the investigator she would contact Bar
Counsel that day but did not do so, and she has never
contacted Bar Counsel regarding the Kamara matter.
Complaint of Eraina Dixon
about October 31, 2014, Respondent and Eraina Dixon executed
a retainer agreement, in which Respondent agreed to represent
Ms. Dixon in her petition for legal guardianship of her
grandson in order to pursue his enrollment in her local
public school. Ms. Dixon paid Respondent a retainer fee of
$750, which Respondent converted to her own use before
earning it, failing to deposit it in a client trust account
or maintain financial records. Respondent did little to no
work on the case, failing to enter her appearance or file any
court documents in the matter. Although she told Ms. Dixon
that she had prepared an affidavit for her, Respondent never
provided such a document to Ms. Dixon. Respondent ignored Ms.
Dixon's many attempts to contact her throughout the Fall.
On December 29, 2014, Respondent e-mailed Ms. Dixon promising
to meet with her in two days, but failed to meet with Ms.
Dixon on the appointed day. Ms. Dixon eventually discharged
Respondent and requested a refund. Respondent failed to
refund the retainer fee or give Ms. Dixon her client file.
21, 2015, Ms. Dixon filed a complaint against Respondent with
the Attorney Grievance Commission. Respondent ignored Bar
Counsel's multiple attempts to contact her regarding the
complaint and never replied to the request for information.
Complaint of Yolanda Curtis
about August 2014, Yolanda Curtis retained Respondent to
represent her as plaintiff in a suit in the District Court
sitting in Prince George's County, seeking recovery of
Ms. Curtis's home rental security deposit arising from a
previous tenancy. Respondent told Ms. Curtis that her fee
would be approximately $1, 000 to $3, 000 and would be
deducted from the recovery in the action. Respondent did not
explain to Ms. Curtis the basis of this fee nor did she
execute a written agreement regarding the fee with Ms.
about September 5, 2014, Respondent failed to appear in court
in Ms. Curtis's action and a judgment was entered against
Ms. Curtis. Respondent filed a "Motion to Vacate the
Judgment and Set the Matter back in for Trial", claiming
that she had not received notice of an alleged time change in
the hearing. The court granted the motion and set a new date
for the hearing. Respondent was late to court for that
hearing. Nevertheless, the court entered judgment in favor of
Ms. Curtis and against defendant Earl White, Jr., in the
amount of $1, 054, costs of $68, and attorney's fees of
$1, 375, coming to a total payment due from defendant of $2,
White contacted Respondent seeking to satisfy the judgment.
Roughly three weeks later Respondent replied, stating that
Ms. Curtis had authorized her to accept the judgment on
behalf of Ms. Curtis. Mr. White paid Respondent, who then
converted the money to her own use without informing Ms.
Curtis that the judgment had been satisfied. Respondent
falsely advised Mr. White that she had filed a notice of
satisfaction with the court, and she ignored his subsequent
attempts to contact her with a request that she file the
notice of satisfaction. Mr. White eventually asked the court
to enter a notice of satisfaction, which it did on March 30,
unaware that Mr. White had satisfied the judgment, Ms. Curtis
filed a Request for Garnishment of Mr. White's wages. She
then learned that Mr. White had paid the judgment. On July 6,
2015, Ms. Curtis filed a complaint with the Attorney
Grievance Commission against Respondent. Bar Counsel made
multiple attempts to contact Respondent and request
information regarding this matter, and, though in one
instance Respondent signed the return receipt on Bar
Counsel's message, she never replied to Bar Counsel.
Complaint of Angela D. Alsobrooks, State's Attorney
for Prince George's County
about February 20, 2004, United States Park Police conducted
a traffic stop of Respondent and performed a Standardized
Field Sobriety Test, which Respondent failed. She was
arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence
("DUI") and other violations including speeding,
driving on an expired license and driving with a suspended
registration. She pleaded guilty before the United States
District Court for the District of Maryland and was sentenced
to supervised probation with additional conditions of
March 31, 2013, Maryland State Police found Respondent in her
vehicle, crashed into a roadside ditch. Respondent failed a
field sobriety test and was charged with DUI, reckless
driving, and driving on a suspended license. On March 20,
2014, Respondent appeared in the Circuit Court for Prince
George's County on those charges, and, when asked by the
court whether she had any prior criminal convictions, she
lied, replying "no" despite her previous DUI
conviction. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to
unsupervised probation before judgment.
State's Attorney's Office for Prince George's
County, upon discovering the falsehood, filed a motion to
strike the judgment; the motion was granted. The State's
Attorney also notified Bar Counsel of this matter, who
docketed a complaint against Respondent and sent a letter to
her home and office notifying her and seeking information.
Respondent requested a ten-day extension of time to respond,
which was granted. Respondent failed to respond before the
extended deadline. Complaint of Beverly Christina
Bradley-Topping retained Respondent to represent her in the
filing of a divorce action and paid a retainer fee of $2,
145. Respondent converted this fee to her own use before
earning it, did not deposit it into a client trust fund, and
did not maintain an accounting. Respondent filed a complaint
for divorce on behalf of Ms. Bradley-Topping on October 27,
2014, without first discussing with her the grounds for
divorce or providing her with a draft of the complaint. After
the document was filed, Ms. Bradley-Topping contacted
Respondent and asked her to amend the grounds for divorce to
"desertion". Respondent told Ms. Bradley-Topping
that she would amend the complaint but never did so.
failed repeatedly to communicate with Ms. Bradley-Topping.
She scheduled phone calls with Ms. Bradley-Topping on
November 17, November 22, and December 11, 2014, yet failed
to call her client as promised. Meanwhile, the court set a
scheduling conference for March 3, 2015. Respondent delayed
until the day before that conference to inform Ms.
Bradley-Topping of it.
court then entered a Scheduling Order, which Respondent
repeatedly violated. She failed to provide required documents
by the deadline, failed to file a Joint Statement of Marital
and Non-marital Property by the deadline, failed to respond
to discovery or inform Ms. Bradley-Topping of the discovery
requests, and failed to timely contact the assigned Court
Appointed Mediator. Opposing counsel filed, and the court
granted, a Motion to Compel Discovery and/or for Sanctions.
Respondent never provided discovery, causing the court to
enter an order of sanctions against Ms. Bradley-Topping for
$693. Respondent never informed her client of the motion to
compel or the sanctions entered against her.
continued her pattern of failing to respond to Ms.
Bradley-Topping's requests for information, told Ms.
Bradley-Topping that she had prepared a draft settlement
agreement though she had not done so, and took no steps to
settle the matter despite Ms. Bradley-Topping's wishes.
She delayed until the day before the merits hearing to inform
Ms. Bradley-Topping of the hearing and advise her that she
would need to bring a witness.
the merits hearing, the court granted a limited divorce and
ordered Respondent to submit a proposed Judgment of Limited
Divorce Order. Respondent prepared a draft order and shared
it with Ms. Bradley-Topping, who stated that it was
"imperative that [her] proper grounds be reflected"
in the order (i.e., desertion) and asked Respondent to strike
the $693 owed to the opposing party, stating that she had
"no knowledge what this fee [was] for." Respondent,
however, filed the proposed order with no material changes.
Bradley-Topping discharged Respondent on July 30, 2015, and
requested that she withdraw her appearance, refund the
retainer fee, and provide Ms. Bradley-Topping with her client
file. Respondent did none of those things.
Bradley-Topping filed a complaint against Respondent with the
Attorney Grievance Commission. Bar Counsel twice requested
information from Respondent regarding the complaint, but
Respondent failed to reply. On November 20, 2015, Bar Counsel
issued a subpoena to obtain Respondent's bank records,
and later a Commission investigator made contact with
Respondent, requesting the name of her current bank.
Respondent refused to answer, stating: "You're the
investigator, you figure it out." Complaint of
Courtney Smith Lamar
27, 2015, Ms. Lamar signed a retainer agreement with
Respondent in connection with a complaint for divorce filed
against Ms. Lamar. The parties agreed to an hourly rate of
$250, and Ms. Lamar paid Respondent a retainer of $1, 800.
Respondent committed to providing monthly billing invoices
but never provided them. Respondent failed to deposit this
money into an attorney trust account, did not maintain
records of the fee, and converted the fee to her own use
before earning it.
point during Respondent's representation, Ms. Lamar
sought reconciliation with her husband. Respondent promised
she would send a letter to opposing counsel regarding the
possibility of reconciliation, but she never did so.
Respondent filed an Answer and a Certificate Regarding
Discovery, and entered her appearance in the case. Respondent
thereafter failed to perform any meaningful work in the
action. Respondent failed to reply to Ms. Lamar's
requests for information, failed to notify her about or
respond to discovery requests, and failed to respond to four
attempts by the court to contact Respondent to clear court
dates. The court then set a scheduling conference, and
Respondent failed to inform Ms. Lamar of the conference or
prepare a financial statement in advance of the conference.
repeated attempts by Ms. Lamar to contact Respondent, on
November 10, 2015, Respondent finally sent Ms. Lamar a
message. Ms. Lamar then discharged her and requested a refund
and her client file. Despite having been fired by her client,
Respondent appeared in court for the scheduling conference on
November 12, 2015, and failed to withdraw from the case. She
failed to refund her retainer fee or provide the client file.
November 17, 2015, Ms. Lamar filed a complaint with the
Attorney Grievance Commission regarding this conduct. Bar
Counsel sent a letter to Respondent and she requested a
ten-day extension of time ...