Court for Harford County Case No.: 12-C-16-002780
Argued: September 11, 2017
Barbera, C.J. Greene Adkins McDonald Watts Hotten Getty, JJ.
Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland ("AGC"),
acting through Bar Counsel, filed a Petition for Disciplinary
or Remedial Action ("Petition") against Respondent
Louisa Content McLaughlin. Bar Counsel charged McLaughlin
with violating the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of
Professional Conduct ("MLRPC") during her
representation of Doris Leedom.
investigated after Paula McCabe, Ms. Leedom's daughter
and power of attorney, filed a complaint. Bar Counsel alleged
that McLaughlin violated the following: (1) Rule 1.3
(Diligence); (2) Rule 1.4(a) and (b)
(Communication); (3) Rule 1.5(a) (Fees); (4) Rule 1.15(a)
and (e) (Safekeeping Property); (5) Rule 8.1(a) and (b) (Bar
Admission and Disciplinary Matters); (6) Rule 8.4 (a), (c) and
(d) (Misconduct); and Maryland Code (1957, 2010 Repl. Vol.),
§ 10-306 of the Business Occupations and Professions
Article ("BP") (Misuse of Trust
transmitted the matter to the Honorable Kevin J. Mahoney
("the hearing judge") of the Circuit Court for
Harford County to hear the case. After trying and failing to
serve McLaughlin, Bar Counsel served the Client Protection
Fund of the Bar of Maryland pursuant to Maryland Rule
19-723(b). The Fund mailed the Petition to McLaughlin at
three different addresses. When McLaughlin did not answer the
Petition, Bar Counsel moved for an Order of Default under
Maryland Rule 2-613(b), which the Circuit Court granted.
McLaughlin was sent notice of the Default Order and served
with Bar Counsel's discovery requests. McLaughlin never
responded to Bar Counsel, nor sought to overturn the default.
did not appear at the Circuit Court hearing on March 20,
2017. The hearing judge concluded that because McLaughlin had
defaulted, all requests for admissions in Bar Counsel's
discovery requests were deemed admitted pursuant to Maryland
Rule 2-424(b). The hearing judge issued Findings of Fact and
Conclusions of Law, based on the admitted facts, in which he
found by clear and convincing evidence that McLaughlin
violated MLRPC 1.3, 1.4(a) and (b), 1.5(a), 1.15(a) and (e),
8.1(a) and (b), 8.4(a), (c), and (d), and BP § 10-306.
He found multiple aggravating factors and no mitigating
HEARING JUDGE'S FINDINGS OF FACT
hearing judge made the following findings of fact. McLaughlin
was admitted to the Maryland Bar on June 15, 2004 and has
substantial experience in the practice of law.
2011, Ms. Leedom, then age 86, and a resident of New York,
retained McLaughlin to prepare estate planning documents. Ms.
Leedom gave her son George Leedom ("Mr. Leedom")
her power of attorney, and her daughter, Mrs. McCabe, was
identified as his successor. When Ms. Leedom moved to
Maryland in 2013, McLaughlin drafted a Maryland power of
attorney for her, which named Mr. Leedom as her agent. In
2013, Ms. Leedom sold her New York home and gifted the
proceeds, over $500, 000, to Mr. Leedom. McLaughlin provided
some advice regarding this gift. The hearing judge found that
Mr. Leedom managed his mother's finances from 2011 to
June 2014. At that time,
Mr. Leedom entered a rehabilitation for substance abuse
issues, and Mrs. McCabe notified [McLaughlin] . . . .
However, [McLaughlin] did not advise Ms. Leedom of the risks
of allowing Mr. Leedom to continue to serve as her power of
attorney at any time after June 2014. In fact, [McLaughlin]
did not communicate with Ms. Leedom at all in June 2014, and
never discussed Mr. Leedom's substance abuse issues with
On August 12, 2014, Ms. Leedom, with [McLaughlin's]
assistance, sold two pieces of property located in Aberdeen,
Maryland. The sale of the two properties resulted in net
proceeds to Ms. Leedom of approximately $95, 000.00.
[McLaughlin] agreed to serve as an escrow agent, holding the
proceeds of the sale in her Attorney Trust Account.
Respondent was not to disburse the proceeds of the sale until
[Mr.] Leedom and Mrs. McCabe agreed on the disposition of the
hearing judge found that despite this agreement, McLaughlin
disbursed $10, 000 to Mr. Leedom in October 2014. McLaughlin
did not notify Mrs. McCabe or obtain her consent to the
December 2014, Ms. Leedom executed a power of attorney,
naming McLaughlin as her agent. The next month, McLaughlin
"paid herself $5, 175.00 from Ms. Leedom's funds
held in her trust account without Mrs. McCabe's
authorization or consent." McLaughlin did not provide
invoices or billing statements to Ms. Leedom, or to Mr.
Leedom when he had his mother's power of attorney.
Leedom executed another power of attorney in April 2015,
naming Mrs. McCabe as her agent. Mrs. McCabe immediately sent
McLaughlin a letter asking "for an accounting of and the
return of her mother's funds." The hearing judge
found that McLaughlin provided an accounting in May,
"but refused to return the balance of Ms. Leedom's
funds unless and until Mrs. McCabe signed a waiver releasing
[McLaughlin] from any and all liability." He also found
that Mrs. McCabe signed this release under duress.
2015, Mrs. McCabe filed a complaint with the AGC. Bar Counsel
sent McLaughlin a copy of the complaint and requested a
written response. McLaughlin submitted a written response on
September 18. The hearing judge found that McLaughlin made
"knowing and intentional misrepresentations to Bar
Counsel" in her response, specifically:
[McLaughlin] stated that 'Doris Leedom . . . was adamant
that she did not want her daughter [Paula McCabe] involved. I
had been told by [Mr.] Leedom on several occasions that his
mother became very agitated and combative when Paula wanted
to take her to a hair appointment or when her name came up. I
witnessed this on several occasions in meetings just between
Doris Leedom and myself.'
[McLaughlin] also misrepresented to Bar Counsel that she was
in frequent contact with [Mr.] Leedom, including in person
meetings, in the fall of 2014. Additionally, [McLaughlin]
misrepresented that she wrote a letter to Mrs. McCabe on May
15, 2015, when in fact she had not. [McLaughlin] also
misrepresented that Mike McCabe, Paula McCabe's husband,
'[o]n more than one occasion . . . said he did not want
to deal with Paula or have her get involved and finally on
May 8, 2015 said he was not getting involved with this and
that he had told Paula he wanted nothing to do with her
actions.' Finally, [McLaughlin] misrepresented that she
'explained on several occasions to Mrs. McCabe [that]
there was never an [escrow] account in Doris Leedom's
Counsel sent a letter to McLaughlin dated November 13, 2015,
which explained that the matter had been docketed for further
investigation, enclosed additional correspondence from Mrs.
McCabe, and requested a response. Bar Counsel sent a similar
letter on January 11, 2016. McLaughlin received both of these
letters, but never responded.
investigator interviewed McLaughlin in February 2016.
McLaughlin told the investigator that she did not think she
had to respond to Bar Counsel's November 13 letter, and
that she "did not recall" receiving the January 11
letter. Bar Counsel sent McLaughlin additional copies of the
previous correspondence through U.S. mail and e-mail.
McLaughlin received, but did not respond to these
HEARING JUDGE'S CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
hearing judge found that an evidentiary hearing was
unnecessary because the Circuit Court had entered an Order of
Default and McLaughlin had not moved to vacate the order. He
found that the admitted facts were "sufficient by a
clear and convincing standard" to justify the
court's conclusions of law that McLaughlin violated MLRPC
1.3, 1.4(a) and (b), 1.5(a), 1.15(a) and (e), 8.1(a) and (b),
8.4(a), (c), and (d), and BP § 10-306.
hearing judge concluded that McLaughlin violated Rule 1.3
when she "fail[ed] to promptly advise her client, Doris
Leedom, of the risks of continuing to have [Mr.] Leedom act
as her power of attorney when [Mr.] Leedom was experiencing
problems with substance abuse." This "increased the
likelihood that her client would suffer adverse financial
hearing judge found that McLaughlin violated 1.4(a) by
failing "to provide information, advice and counsel to
her client regarding the propriety of having [Mr.] Leedom,
who had known substance abuse issues, continue as her power
of attorney." This omission left Ms. Leedom without
"sufficient information to participate in making
decisions regarding the representation." The hearing
judge found that McLaughlin's failure "to explain to
[Ms.] Leedom in any manner, the risks of having [Mr.] Leedom
continue as her power of attorney" violated Rule 1.4(b)
because she never explained the matter to permit her client
to make an informed decision.
hearing judge found that McLaughlin never provided an invoice
or billing statement for the $5, 175 fee to either her client
or her power of attorney. She simply deducted the money from
her IOLTA account, and the only justification for this fee
was a notation: "through 08/2014." The hearing
judge found that "[w]ithout any basis to substantiate
her charges in this case, [McLaughlin's] fee is
unreasonable, " and violated Rule 1.5(a).
1.15(a) and (e): Safekeeping Property
hearing judge found that McLaughlin "violated . . . Rule
[1.15(a)] when she failed to keep her own property, i.e., the
$5, 175 in fees she earned in August 2014, separate from
[Ms.] Leedom's own property, " because "she
failed to withdraw the funds from the IOLTA account until
January 24, 2015." The hearing judge found that
McLaughlin violated Rule 1.15(e) "by disbursing $10, 000
to George Leedom in October 2014 without Mrs. McCabe's
consent. . . . [and] when she disbursed $5, 175.00 to herself
for attorney's fees without Mrs. McCabe's
8.1: Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters
hearing judge concluded that McLaughlin violated Rule 8.1(a)
when she repeatedly made false statements to Bar Counsel in
her September 18, 2015 letter. The hearing judge found that
McLaughlin violated Rule 8.1(b) because she received three
requests for information from Bar Counsel and never
hearing judge determined that McLaughlin violated Rule 8.4(a)
because she violated other Rules of Professional Conduct. The
hearing judge concluded that McLaughlin's five
misrepresentations to Bar Counsel in the September 18 letter
violated Rule 8.4(c), which prohibits conduct involving
dishonesty or misrepresentation.
hearing judge found that McLaughlin's "failures to
communicate with her client, failures to safeguard her
client's funds, misrepresentations to [Bar Counsel], and
failures to respond to [Bar Counsel's] lawful requests
for information" were "likely to impair public
confidence in the profession and impact the image of lawyers
in the public eye." Such conduct was prejudicial to the
administration of justice, and violated 8.4(d).
Occupations & Professions § 10-306: Misuse of Trust
hearing judge found that McLaughlin violated § 10-306
when she disbursed $10, 000 to Mr. Leedom and $5, 175 to
herself contrary to the agreement that she would not disburse
any proceeds from the sale of the Aberdeen properties until
Mr. Leedom and Mrs. McCabe could agree on the disposition of
and Mitigating Factors
on Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Shuler, 443 Md.
494, 506-07 (2015), the hearing judge considered: (1) the
rules McLaughlin violated; (2) her mental state; (3) the
injury her misconduct caused, or could have caused; and (4)
aggravating and mitigating factors. He found that McLaughlin
had violated numerous Rules of Conduct and BP § 10-306.
The hearing judge concluded that McLaughlin's mental
state "seem[ed] to be intentional and deliberate"
based on her September 18 letter. He found that Ms. Leedom
lost $10, 000 when McLaughlin released funds to Mr. Leedom
without Mrs. McCabe's consent, and $5, 175 when
McLaughlin transferred the fee to herself without
"proper documentation that [she] had earned those
fees." Ms. Leedom may have lost additional funds when
McLaughlin failed to advise her client of the dangers of
retaining Mr. Leedom as her power of attorney.
hearing judge found multiple aggravating factors. He found
that McLaughlin had violated multiple rules and BP
§10-306. She engaged in "bad faith obstruction of
the attorney discipline proceedings" because she
"failed to respond to [Bar Counsel's] last three
letters. . . . failed to file an answer to the PDRA, which
resulted in a default judgement being entered against her. .
. . [and] she failed to respond to any of [Bar Counsel's]
discovery requests." McLaughlin "submitted false
statements, false evidence, and engaged in other deceptive
practices" by making multiple misrepresentations in her
response to Bar Counsel. McLaughlin did not acknowledge the
wrongful nature of her misconduct because she "never
admitted that she violated any Rules of Professional Conduct.
. . . [and] never apologized for her misconduct."
hearing judge found that Ms. Leedom was a vulnerable victim
because she was 89 years of age at the time the misconduct
occurred. McLaughlin had substantial experience in the
practice of law. McLaughlin was indifferent to making
restitution or correcting her misconduct because she never
refunded her fees, nor apologized. He also found that
McLaughlin was likely to repeat her misconduct, because
"absent recognition of and remorse for her wrongdoing,
there is a substantial likelihood that she will repeat
it." The hearing judge found that McLaughlin had no
available mitigating factors because she had not provided any
evidence, nor had she "participated in any way during
these proceedings . . . ."
proceedings before this Court, McLaughlin was limited to
addressing sanctions because of the default entered against
her. We issued a per curiam order disbarring McLaughlin on
September 11, 2017. See Attorney Grievance Comm'n v.
McLaughlin, Md. (2017). We now explain the basis for
attorney discipline proceedings, this Court has original and
complete jurisdiction and conducts an independent review of
the record." Attorney Grievance Comm'n v.
McClain, 406 Md. 1, 17 (2008). The Court will accept the
hearing judge's findings of fact unless they are clearly
erroneous. Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Page,
430 Md. 602, 626 (2013). Both parties may file
"exceptions to the findings and conclusions of the
hearing judge[.]" Maryland Rule 19-728(b)(1). Because
neither party filed an exception in this case, we choose to
"treat the findings of fact as established." Md.
Rule 19-741(b)(2)(A); see also Attorney Grievance
Comm'n v. De La Paz, 418 Md. 534, 552 (2011). We
review the hearing judge's conclusions of law without
deference, "even where default orders and judgments have
been entered at the hearing level." Attorney
Grievance Comm'n v. Harrington, 367 Md. 36, 49
Order of Default
hearing judge entered an Order of Default under Md. Rules
2-613(b) and 19-724(c) because McLaughlin never filed a
response to the Petition. He relied on Attorney Grievance
Comm'n v. Thomas, 440 Md. 523, 550-51 (2014), to