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In re Application of Phillips

Court of Appeals of Maryland

December 20, 2017

IN RE: THE APPLICATION OF SOLON PHILLIPS FOR ADMISSION TO THE BAR OF MARYLAND

          Argued: November 6, 2017

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

          OPINION

          Getty, J.

         In this case, we are asked to consider whether to grant the application for admission to the Bar of Maryland of Solon Phillips ("Mr. Phillips"). The Character Committee for the Fourth Appellate Circuit of Maryland ("the Committee") returned a favorable recommendation without addressing the findings by this Court regarding Mr. Phillips' unauthorized practice of law in an attorney grievance proceeding. The findings by this Court in the attorney grievance action, in addition to other concerns, led the State Board of Law Examiners ("the Board") to recommend that Mr. Phillips be denied admission to the Bar of Maryland. For the reasons below, we agree with the Board that Mr. Phillips has not demonstrated that he currently possesses good moral character and fitness for the practice of law as required by Md. Rule 19-203. As such, we deny Mr. Phillips' admission to the Bar of Maryland.

         BACKGROUND

         Mr. Phillips originally filed an application with the Board for admission to the Bar of Maryland on January 10, 2008. Mr. Phillips was ultimately successful on the bar examination held in February 2011. During the time between his application and his success on the bar examination, Mr. Phillips filed nine updates to his application and attended a hearing with the Committee in January 2012. The Committee agreed to hold the record open for Mr. Phillips to supplement his application until July 17, 2015. The Committee issued a Report and Recommendation on November 4, 2015, recommending that Mr. Phillips' first application for admission to the Bar of Maryland be denied. Mr. Phillips obtained counsel in preparation for the hearing before the Board, which counsel for Mr. Phillips was able to postpone. Ultimately, Mr. Phillips withdrew his application to the Bar of Maryland on July 1, 2016, prior to the Board hearing.

         On August 24, 2016, Mr. Phillips submitted a second application with the Board for admission to the Bar of Maryland. Attached to the second application was a document titled "Supplement: Proof of Good Moral Character, " in which Mr. Phillips attempted to persuade the Board that he is of good moral character and fit for the practice of law. Specifically, the supplement discussed his financial responsibility, moral character, his voluntary choice to take classes on professional responsibility, and his voluntary choice to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination ("MPRE"), which is not a requirement of the Maryland Bar. In the supplement, Mr. Phillips requested to be admitted to the Maryland Bar because of his character, responsibility, and candor.

         While Mr. Phillips' second application for admission to the Maryland Bar was pending, this Court issued its opinion in Attorney Grievance Comm'n of Maryland v. Phillips, in which we ultimately disbarred Dalton Phillips ("Mr. Dalton Phillips"), Mr. Phillips' father, as a result of Attorney Grievance Commission's Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action. 451 Md. 653 (2017). This Court concluded that Mr. Dalton Phillips violated several Rules of Professional Conduct when he assisted Mr. Phillips, his son, in the unauthorized practice of law. Specifically, this Court found that Mr. Phillips graduated from law school in 2008, but did not seek admission to the Bar of Maryland until 2011. In August 2009, Mr. Phillips discussed forming a law firm with Mr. Dalton Phillips. In pursuit of that goal, Mr. Phillips filed Articles of Organization with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation on behalf of the law firm Phillips, Phillips and Dow, LLC. The law firm was to include Mr. Phillips, Anthony Dow, a friend of Mr. Phillips from high school, and Mr. Dalton Phillips. This Court could not discern from the record whether Anthony Dow was aware that his name was listed as a member in the law firm. In establishing the law firm, Mr. 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.'." Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Phillips, 451 Md. at 661.

         After establishing a law firm before being admitted to the Maryland Bar, Mr. Phillips later met Crystal Meehan on an internet support group. Crystal Meehan told Mr. Phillips about "unwanted communications that [she] had been receiving from her ex-husband's current wife, Abigail Meehan, " who lived in Indiana. Id. at 661. Mr. Phillips drafted a cease and desist letter, ordering Abigail Meehan to discontinue all communications with Crystal Meehan as those communications constituted harassment. The letter also threatened Abigail Meehan with legal action. Mr. Phillips then "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 [Mr. Dalton Phillips'] name to the letter, not his own." Id. After receiving the cease and desist letter, Abigail Meehan attempted to contact the firm and ultimately corresponded with Mr. Dalton Phillips. In an email to Abigail Meehan, Mr. Dalton Phillips stated that the "letter was issued without [his] knowledge, " and acknowledged "that Ms. Crystal Meehan is a client of [Phillips, Phillips, and Dow, LLC]." Id. at 662.

         In June 2014, Abigail Meehan filed a complaint with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission, alleging that the law firm and the attorneys should not be sending her letters. In response to the complaint, the Attorney Grievance Commission began investigating Mr. Dalton Phillips, the law firm, and Mr. Phillips. After the investigation, the Attorney Grievance Commission filed a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action against Mr. Dalton Phillips. This Court concluded that "[Mr.] Phillips was engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. [Mr. Dalton Phillips] had actual knowledge of the unauthorized practice of law at the time Abigail Meehan emailed him a copy of the cease and desist letter. In his email to Abigail Meehan on May 29, 2014, [Mr. Dalton Phillips] ratified [Mr.] Phillips' unauthorized practice." Id. at 673.

         After reviewing the second application, the Committee issued a second Report and Recommendation on June 2, 2017, recommending that Mr. Phillips be admitted to the Bar of Maryland. However, the Committee did not fully consider this Court's opinion in Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Phillips. The second application for admission to the Maryland Bar was then submitted to the Board. After reviewing the Committee Report and Recommendation, the Board concluded that there may be grounds for denying Mr. Phillips' application. As such, the Board held a four-member panel hearing on July 21, 2017, [1] for which Mr. Phillips appeared represented by counsel, Paul Mark Sandler ("Mr. Sandler"). Pursuant to Md. Rule 19-203(b), the Board offered Mr. Phillips an opportunity to withdraw his application before the Board submitted a Report, recommending the denial of Mr. Phillips' application, to this Court. Mr. Phillips declined to withdraw his application.

         On October 10, 2017, the Board filed its Report and Recommendation, concluding that Mr. Phillips did not meet his burden in proving that he possesses the character and fitness for admission to the Bar of Maryland. In the Report and Recommendation, the Board considered the factual findings and conclusions in Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Phillips. Specifically, the Board found that Mr. Phillips admitted to drafting and sending the cease and desist letter to Abigail Meehan, thereby also admitting that he was practicing law without authorization. Moreover, the Board found that Mr. Phillips failed to disclose to the Board in any of the updates or supplements to his original application for admission that the Attorney Grievance Commission was investigating Mr. Dalton Phillips as a result of his unauthorized practice of law. The Board reported that Mr. Phillips never informed the Board about the Attorney Grievance Commission investigation before Mr. Phillips withdrew his original application on July 1, 2016.

         As part of Mr. Phillips failure to disclose this information, the Board noted further that the document attached to the second application, "Supplement: Proof of Good Moral Character, " included a passage reading, "I had no idea that my acts as it pertains to my father's hearing constituted the unauthorized practice of law." Yet, in the Board hearing, Mr. Phillips testified that he knew it was wrong at the time. In addition to Mr. Phillips' omissions regarding the Attorney Grievance Commission matter, the Board also reported that Mr. Phillips applied for the Florida Bar in May 2017. Mr. Phillips failed to notify the Committee during his initial character interview of this application. Moreover, Mr. Phillips did not update his Maryland Bar application answers to reflect his application to the Bar of Florida.

         Ultimately, all of the Board members recommended that this Court deny Mr. Phillips' admission to the Maryland Bar. Specifically, the Board was convinced that Mr. Phillips did not meet his burden of proof in demonstrating that he is of good moral ...


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