Argued: April 4, 2017
Court for Baltimore County Case Nos. C-15-14239 and C-16-6873
Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten,
Bonnie Elizabeth Plank was admitted to the Bar of the Court
of Appeals on June 13, 2006. On December 17, 2015,
Petitioner, the Attorney Grievance Commission, acting through
Bar Counsel, filed with this Court a Petition for
Disciplinary or Remedial Action against Respondent. On
December 22, 2015, this Court ordered that the case be
transmitted to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County and
designated the Honorable Judith C. Ensor to conduct an
evidentiary hearing and render findings of fact and
conclusions of law. Petitioner filed an Amended Petition for
Disciplinary or Remedial Action in this Court on January 29,
2016 ("Amended Petition I"). The charges brought in
Amended Petition I are based on conduct outlined in four
separate complaints filed with the Commission. On June 7,
2016, Petitioner filed a separate Petition for Disciplinary
or Remedial Action and a Motion to Consolidate Petitions for
Disciplinary or Remedial Action ("Petition II"),
based on an additional complaint. By order dated June 13,
2016, this Court consolidated the two cases for purposes of a
failed to appear at the evidentiary hearing on December 13,
2016. Thereafter, the hearing judge issued written findings
of fact and proposed conclusions of law, determining that the
Respondent violated Maryland Lawyers' Rules of
Professional Conduct ("MLRPC") 1.1; 1.3; 1.4;
1.5(a); 1.6; 1.15(a) and (c); 1.16(d); 3.3(a); 5.5(a);
7.1(a); 8.1(b); and 8.4(b), (c), and (d). This Court
scheduled argument for April 4, 2017. Respondent did not
appear. Bar Counsel recommended disbarment as the appropriate
sanction. We issued a per curiam order on April 4, 2017
disbarring Respondent immediately from the practice of law in
the State of Maryland. We now explain our reasons for that
Hearing Judge's Findings and Conclusions
Respondent failed to file an Answer to the Commission's
Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action, the hearing
judge treated the averments in the Petitioner as admitted
pursuant to Md. Rule 2-323(e). Based upon clear and
convincing evidence, the hearing judge presented the
following findings of fact:
Respondent was admitted to the Bar of the Court of Appeals of
Maryland on June 13, 2006. At all times relevant to this
matter, Ms. Plank was not admitted to practice law in any
other State or in the District of Columbia. During the time
period of the first four complaints set forth in Amended
Petition I, Respondent maintained an office for the practice
of law in Howard County and/or Montgomery County, Maryland.
Her right to practice law has been suspended temporarily
since March 24, 2016, as a result of Ms. Plank's
"non-payment of CPF Assessment Fee."
Amended Petition I
1. Bar Counsel Complaint
On January 29, 2015, the Morgan County Sheriff's
Department in West Virginia advised Petitioner that Ms. Plank
had been charged with Driving Under the Influence of
Controlled Substances and Possession of Controlled
Substance-Marijuana following her arrest on January 28, 2015.
On February 20, 2015, the Commission sent a letter, with
copies of the charging documents from West Virginia, to
Respondent, notifying her that an investigation would be
conducted regarding the alleged conduct. Petitioner requested
a written response, within 15 days, as to the allegation that
Ms. Plank had violated MLRPC 8.4(b) and (d). Respondent
failed to provide Petitioner with a response.
On April 9, 2015, Commission Investigator William Ramsey
("Investigator Ramsey") met with Respondent and
inquired about the criminal charges. At that time, Respondent
invoked her Fifth Amendment privilege but denied having a
substance abuse problem. At the meeting, Respondent provided
Investigator Ramsey with Maryland Judiciary Case Search
print-outs relevant to her name. The print-outs showed
multiple citations issued to Ms. Plank for driving while her
license was suspended in Maryland. In addition,
on April 6, 2015, in the Circuit Court for Howard County,
Respondent pled guilty to failing to display a driver's
license to a uniformed officer.
On December 16, 2015, Respondent entered guilty pleas in
Morgan County, West Virginia to charges of Driving Under the
Influence of Controlled Substances (West Virginia Code §
17C-5- 2) and Possession of Controlled Substance-Marijuana
(West Virginia Code § 60A-4-401). Her pleas were
accepted; Ms. Plank was convicted of both charges. Respondent
was ordered to pay a $200 fine and $260.25 in costs and fees
for the Driving Under the Influence of Controlled Substances
conviction. For the Possession of Controlled
Substance-Marijuana conviction, Respondent was required to
pay a $100 fine and $165.25 in costs and fees.
2. Jones Complaint
On March 27, 2014, Mr. Howard Vernon Jones ("Mr.
Jones") hired Respondent to represent him in a Chapter 7
bankruptcy proceeding because his home was in foreclosure.
Throughout the representation, Respondent met with Mr. Jones
at his home and never provided him with an office address.
Mr. Jones and Respondent agreed that they would communicate
regarding his representation by cell phone, text message, and
At their initial meeting, Ms. Plank requested a fee of $1,
200. Although she had not yet provided any legal services,
Respondent accepted a payment of $600 from Mr. Jones. Ms.
Plank promised to provide a receipt for this payment, but
failed to do so. Mr. Jones tendered an additional payment of
$600.00 to Respondent roughly one week after the initial
On March 27, 2014, notwithstanding the fact that he had
instructed her to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7, Ms.
Plank filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy on behalf of Mr. Jones.
At a meeting with Respondent, Mr. Jones learned of the
incorrect filing and again instructed Ms. Plank to file for
bankruptcy pursuant to Chapter 7. Respondent indicated that
she would. On or about June 26, 2014, Respondent filed a
petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on behalf of Mr. Jones, but
failed to address in any manner the incorrect Chapter 13
Mr. Jones appeared for a scheduled meeting/hearing in the
Bankruptcy Court on or about August 15, 2014. Just prior to
the meeting/hearing, Mr. Jones received a telephone call from
Respondent. Ms. Plank indicated that she was in the hospital
in Baltimore and instructed Mr. Jones to return to his home.
Although Ms. Plank told Mr. Jones that she would contact him
about rescheduling the meeting/hearing, she failed to do so.
After numerous failed attempts to contact Respondent, Mr.
Jones ultimately engaged new counsel. Mr. Jones learned,
through his subsequent attorney, that Respondent had failed
to withdraw the incorrectly filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy
On May 28, 2014, the Chapter 13 filing was dismissed. The
Bankruptcy Court directed Respondent to file, by June 11,
2014, a response justifying her fee. Ms. Plank failed to do
so. On June 27, 2014, the Bankruptcy Court issued an order
directing Respondent to refund the fee to Mr. Jones. On
August 19, 2014, Respondent filed a Motion for
Reconsideration of the Dismissal of the Chapter 13 filing and
Reduction of Fees; the Motion was denied. On July 29, 2014,
the Chapter 7 bankruptcy case was dismissed and Respondent
was again ordered to refund any attorney's fees.
Respondent failed to refund the fees.
On September 5, 2014, the Commission sent Respondent a
letter, notifying her of the complaint filed by Mr. Jones and
requesting a response within 15 days. On September 30, 2014,
because there was no response, Petitioner sent a second
letter, again requesting information from Ms. Plank. The
letter was returned as undeliverable. On November 10, 2014,
Petitioner sent a third letter to Respondent's last known
address. In this correspondence, Petitioner requested that
Ms. Plank provide a written response, a copy of the file
Respondent maintained for Mr. Jones, and an accounting of the
Ms. Plank failed to respond in writing to any of
Petitioner's letters. That said, after Ms. Plank received
the letter of November 10, 2014, she contacted Petitioner.
Ms. Plank claimed that the Mr. Jones who made the complaint
was not her client and stated that the signatures on the
complaint did not match those of her former client.
Investigator Ramsey, after meeting with Mr. Jones, confirmed
that the complainant had engaged Respondent and was, in fact,
the correct Mr. Jones.
On February 27, 2015, Petitioner sent another letter to
Respondent, reminding her that a written response was due. On
or about March 9, 2015, Ms. Plank sent an email to the
Commission. That email, however, lacked any substantive
information regarding the complaint.
Petitioner did speak with Respondent by telephone on March
11, 2015. During the telephone call, Petitioner reminded Ms.
Plank that she was required to provide a written response to
the complaint. Respondent stated that she had been out of
town for about three weeks and assured Investigator Ramsey
that she would respond to the complaint within one week;
still, Ms. Plank did not provide a written response.
At the request of Investigator Ramsey, Respondent met with
him again on April 8, 2015. At that meeting, Ms. Plank
confirmed that she had represented Mr. Jones and had filed on
his behalf for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.
Respondent indicated that she received $1, 200 in
attorney's fees and that, of that amount, she used $306
to pay filing fees. Respondent further indicated that,
because she did not have the necessary software for the court
filings, she had to engage the assistance of another attorney
and his paralegal. Ms. Plank stated that she paid the
paralegal $894, the balance of the fee received from Mr.
Jones. Neither the attorney nor the paralegal ever received
the $894 payment.
3. Lal Complaint
Respondent was engaged by Aung Kyaw Min Lal ("Mr.
Lal") on or about December 16, 2014. She was retained to
represent Mr. Lal in the defense of a debt collection case
filed on or about September 19, 2014. The amount in
controversy was $5, 600. Prior to Respondent's
involvement, in November 2014, the plaintiff moved the case
from Baltimore County to Washington County, Maryland.
Ms. Plank and Mr. Lal agreed that her fee for services
rendered would be $500 if the case was resolved prior to a
hearing and $1, 500 if a hearing was necessary. Mr. Lal paid
Respondent $1, 500 at the time of the engagement. Ms. Plank
failed to place the funds in an attorney trust account and
failed to withdraw properly the funds as earned.
During her representation of Mr. Lal, Ms. Plank propounded
Interrogatories to the plaintiff. The discovery requests,
however, were not filed timely pursuant to Maryland Rule
3-421(b). Moreover, Respondent did not obtain leave of Court
to propound the discovery after the deadline.
In March, 2015, Mr. Lal authorized Respondent to offer $2,
500 in settlement of the matter. Respondent, however,
informed Mr. Lal that she required him to produce the $2, 500
in advance of her transmitting the offer. Respondent further
indicated that, if she was able to negotiate and decrease the
settlement amount, she would keep the balance of the $2, 500
for her continuing involvement in the case. Ms. Plank
attempted to justify her actions by informing Mr. Lal that
she had earned in excess of what he had paid her.
Using false information and threats, Respondent pressured Mr.
Lal to accept her conditions vis-à-vis the settlement
offer. For instance, Ms. Plank incorrectly advised Mr. Lal
that he could be found criminally liable for refusing to
comply with a trial subpoena for the production of records.
Opposing counsel in the debt collection case confirmed that
Mr. Lal was not under any obligation to produce records at
the time of Respondent's advice on March 24, 2015. In
addition, Ms. Plank informed Mr. Lal that she was risking her
license by continuing to act on his behalf. In response to
Respondent's demands, Mr. Lal requested a release of the
debt before he produced the funds.
After Mr. Lal refused to accept Respondent's new
conditions, Ms. Plank changed the terms of the agreement
without his consent. Although Respondent previously had
indicated that Mr. Lal owed her $800, she subsequently
informed Mr. Lal that he now owed her $2, 500. Ms. Plank
continued to provide false information to Mr. Lal and accused
him of committing fraud on the Court. She threatened to file
a $50, 000 breach of contract claim against Mr. Lal and
report him to the board that oversees his professional
licensing. Respondent further advised Mr. Lal that she was
entitled to punitive and actual damages and that he would be
responsible for paying them. Mr. Lal did not send Respondent
any additional funds and settled the case without her
On May 8, 2015, the Commission sent a letter to Respondent,
informing her of Mr. Lal's complaint and requesting a
written response and a copy of Mr. Lal's file.
Investigator Ramsey met with Respondent on or about June 4,
2015. At that time, Investigator Ramsey hand-delivered to Ms.
Plank a copy of Mr. Lal's complaint and Petitioner's
letter of May 8, 2015. Investigator Ramsey reiterated to
Respondent that she was required to respond in writing to the
Commission's letter. Ms. Plank never provided a written
response. In addition, during the meeting with Investigator
Ramsey, Respondent falsely represented that she had Mr.
Lal's debt collection case transferred from Baltimore
County to Washington County. Respondent also
stated that the check from Mr. Lal was deposited into an
attorney trust account. In fact, a copy of the check
confirmed that the check was endorsed over to a third party
and never deposited as claimed by Ms. Plank.
4. Wheat Complaint
Scott B. Wheat, Esquire ("Mr. Wheat") represented
Plaintiff CACH, LLC in the Lal collection case. As already
mentioned, in that case, Ms. Plank failed to propound
discovery in a timely manner and failed to obtain court
approval to allow the late filing. When Mr. Wheat refused to
respond to the untimely discovery requests, Ms. Plank
threatened to bring disciplinary action against him. During
the course of the case, Mr. Wheat received forwarded emails
from Respondent that involved communications between Mr. Lal
and her --privileged and confidential information.
In another matter in which both Mr. Wheat and Ms. Plank were
involved, CACH, LLC v. Allen, Respondent filed a
Line Withdrawing Entry of Appearance, which did not conform
with the Maryland Rules.
The Commission notified Respondent of Mr. Wheat's
complaint by letter dated July 9, 2015. The letter required a
written response within 15 days; Respondent failed to comply.
1. Porter ...