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Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Slate

Court of Appeals of Maryland

March 2, 2018

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND
v.
GREGORY ALLEN SLATE

          Argued: February 1, 2018

         Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 24-C-17-001903

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

          OPINION

          Watts, J.

          This attorney discipline proceeding involves a lawyer who knowingly failed to disclose during the bar application process that, in a civil case to which the lawyer was a party, a trial court found that the lawyer had engaged in dishonesty and misconduct, and the lawyer falsely stated to Bar Counsel that he had disclosed all required information during the bar application process.

         Before becoming a member of the Bar of Maryland, Gregory Allen Slate, Respondent, initiated a civil case concerning alleged copyright infringement, claiming that hidden camera footage that he had recorded was used without his authorization. The trial court dismissed the case on the ground that Slate had engaged in bad-faith litigation conduct. The trial court found that Slate: fabricated a letter and submitted it to the trial court in bad faith; gave deposition testimony that was either perjurious or, at least, intentionally misleading; and repeatedly attempted to abuse the discovery process through such actions as attempting to fraudulently collect evidence, providing discovery materials in a soiled envelope that strongly smelled of excrement, improperly videotaping his own deposition testimony, and providing voluminous irrelevant and misleading materials. Slate filed a motion for reconsideration. The trial court denied the motion, and found that Slate's filings in connection with the motion showed a continuing pattern of omissions and obfuscations.

         Slate did not attach copies of the trial court's opinions to his bar application or provide any information about the findings therein. In response to Question 11 on the bar application, which called for information about cases to which an applicant had been a party, Slate disclosed basic facts about the case, such as the circumstance that an appeal was pending at the time. Slate, however, did not disclose the trial court's opinions or the findings therein. Significantly, Slate responded "No" to Question 18-a "catchall question" that calls for any negative information that was not requested by, or given in the responses to, any of the other questions.[1]

         After submitting his bar application, Slate falsely affirmed under oath that all of the facts in his bar application remained correct. Slate did not supplement his bar application with the trial court's opinions or the findings therein. Nor did Slate disclose the trial court's opinions or the findings therein during the character interview. Nor did Slate disclose the information during a meeting with the co-chairs of the Character Committee for the Fourth Appellate Judicial Circuit ("the Character Committee").[2] Consistent with the Character Committee's co-chairs' recommendation, the State Board of Law Examiners ("the SBLE") cleared Slate for admission without a hearing. This Court, unaware of the trial court's findings of dishonesty and misconduct, admitted Slate to the Bar of Maryland.

         Within a year, a Maryland lawyer became aware of the trial court's opinions, and filed a complaint against Slate with Bar Counsel. Subsequently, Bar Counsel requested from Slate a response to the complaint. In a written response, Slate stated that he had disclosed all required information during the bar application process.

          On March 30, 2017, on behalf of the Attorney Grievance Commission, Petitioner, Bar Counsel filed in this Court a "Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action" against Slate, charging him with violating Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct ("MLRPC") 8.1 (Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters), 8.4(c) (Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit, or Misrepresentation), 8.4(d) (Conduct That Is Prejudicial to the Administration of Justice), and 8.4(a) (Violating the MLRPC).[3]

         On April 4, 2017, this Court designated the Honorable Jeannie Jinkyung Hong ("the hearing judge") of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City to hear this attorney discipline proceeding. On October 11 through 13, 2017, the hearing judge conducted a hearing. On November 16, 2017, the hearing judge filed in this Court an opinion including findings of fact and conclusions of law, concluding that Slate had violated MLRPC 8.1(a), 8.1(b), 8.4(c), 8.4(d), and 8.4(a).

         On February 1, 2018, we heard oral argument. For the below reasons, we disbar Slate.

         BACKGROUND

         The hearing judge found the following facts, which we summarize.

         The ABC Case

         Before attending law school, Slate worked as a freelance investigative journalist. In Fall 2007, Slate recorded footage as part of a hidden-camera investigation in Chicago. On September 16, 2009, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Slate sued ABC News, Inc., ABC News Interactive, Inc., and Disney/ABC International Television, Inc. (together, "ABC"), initiating Slate v. Am. Broad. Cos., Inc. ("the ABC Case"). In the complaint, Slate alleged that ABC had committed copyright infringement by using his hidden camera footage without his authorization.

         ABC filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion to dismiss for bad-faith conduct of litigation. In an Order and a separate Memorandum Opinion dated April 23, 2013, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia granted the motion for summary judgment, and, in an alternative ruling, granted the motion to dismiss "as a sanction for [Slate]'s persistent course of bad-faith litigation conduct." Slate v. Am. Broad. Cos., Inc., 941 F.Supp.2d 27, 53 (D.D.C. 2013). The Court found that a letter[4] that Slate had submitted was "not authentic and ha[d] been presented to [the] Court in bad faith." Slate, 941 F.Supp.2d at 47. The Court found that the letter included a "glaring historical inconsistency" and was "fabricated after the fact[.]" Id. The Court found that Slate's testimony at a deposition "was likely perjurious, or[, ] at the very least[, ] intentionally misleading." Id. at 48 n.22. The Court stated:

[Slate] engaged in a course of conduct, which demonstrates that he does not take seriously his obligation to litigate in good faith. Most notably, [] Slate has repeatedly attempted to abuse the discovery process, and his persistent course of conduct in this regard strongly suggests that he acted willfully. This conduct includes, but is not limited to: (1) attempting to fraudulently collect evidence; (2) producing discovery documents in a soiled envelope that had the strong odor of excrement; (3) improperly videotaping his own deposition testimony; and (4) producing voluminous amounts of irrelevant and misleading materials.

Id. at 50 (footnotes omitted). The Court also found that Slate "lack[ed] respect for the federal judicial process." Id. at 51.

         Slate filed a motion for reconsideration, as well as two other motions in which he requested that the Court alter or amend the April 23, 2013 Order. In an Order and a separate Memorandum Opinion dated December 20, 2013, the Court denied the motions. See Slate v. Am. Broad. Companies, Inc., 12 F.Supp.3d 30 (D.D.C. 2013). The Court stated that Slate's "briefing in connection with his pending motion for reconsideration continue[d] to exhibit the clear and convincing pattern of omissions and obfuscations that warranted granting [ABC's] motion to dismiss for bad-faith litigation conduct in the first place." Id. at 42 (citations omitted).

         Slate noted an appeal. In an amended notice of appeal dated January 3, 2014, Slate stated: "Notice is also given, that [Slate] hereby appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from the judgment (Dkt. 102 and Dkt. 103) of this Court entered on the 23rd day of April, 2013 in favor of [ABC] against [Slate]."

          In a per curiam opinion dated November 18, 2014, [5] the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the ABC Case for bad-faith conduct of litigation, concluding:

The [D]istrict [C]ourt's factual findings of misconduct were not clearly erroneous; and the [D]istrict [C]ourt did not abuse its discretion in determining that dismissal was warranted in light of the numerous instances of misconduct it cited and the materiality of some of that misconduct to adjudication of central issues in the case.

Slate v. Am. Broad. Cos., Inc., 584 Fed.Appx. 2');">584 Fed.Appx. 2, 3 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (citations omitted).

         Websites About Slate

         While working as a freelance investigative journalist, Slate became associated with a man named Diop Kamau.[6] Slate and Kamau had a falling-out, after which Kamau began maintaining multiple websites that included information about Slate's personal and professional life.[7] Such information included the Memorandum Opinions in the ABC Case ("the Opinions"). At the disciplinary hearing, Slate testified that, because of Kamau's websites about him, he knew that he could never conceal the Opinions.

         Discussions Before Slate Submitted His Bar Application

         In August 2012, Slate began attending the University of Baltimore School of Law.

          In his third year, Slate became concerned about the impact of his litigation history on his bar application. In April 2014, Slate told Jeffrey Shipley, the SBLE's Secretary, that he had been involved in "contentious" litigation. Slate, however, did not inform Shipley of the Opinions or the findings therein. Slate asked about the impact of his litigation history on his bar application. Shipley advised Slate to disclose his entire litigation history, and "to read and follow the directions" on the bar application.

         Also during his third year, Slate told Claudia Diamond, the Assistant Dean of Academic and Writing Support at the University of Baltimore School of Law, that he had been involved in "contentious" litigation. Slate e-mailed Diamond regarding certain disclosures on his bar application. Slate, however, did not inform Diamond of the Opinions or the findings therein.

         At the disciplinary hearing, Slate testified that Shipley, Diamond, and various other individuals advised him not to disclose the Opinions in his bar application. Slate blamed these individuals for his failure to disclose the Opinions in his bar application. The hearing judge found: "Perhaps the individuals did, in fact, navigate [Slate] toward nondisclosure on his bar application; nevertheless, [Slate]'s attempt to shift the blame does not absolve him of his responsibility to prove his character to practice law, and to do so without knowingly omitting material facts[.]" (Citations omitted).

         Slate's Bar Application

         On May 16, 2014, Slate signed his bar application, which included his responses to the Character Questionnaire. At the time, Question 11(a) of the Character Questionnaire stated:

The following is a complete list of all suits in equity, action[s] at law, administrative proceedings, suits in bankruptcy or other statutory proceedings, civil citations, matters in probate, lunacy, guardianship, and every other judicial proceeding of every nature and kind, except divorce or criminal proceedings, to which I am or have been a party (If "None, " so state)[.]

Question 11(a) also required the applicant to provide details regarding each civil case to which the applicant had been a party, including the case number, the filing date, the court's name and address, the date of trial, the date of disposition, and the disposition.[8]

         In his bar application, Slate disclosed that he had been involved in thirty-three criminal cases, and had been a party to forty-three civil cases, including the ABC Case. Slate disclosed the ABC Case's name, the filing date, the court's name and address, the date of trial, and the date of disposition. Next to "Disposition[, ]" Slate wrote: "Dismissed pending appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit[.]" Slate responded "No" to the question "Are you [the] subject of any continuing court order?" Slate also responded "No" to the question "Was the judgment entered against you?" Slate responded "No" to Question 11(b), which stated: "Have any judgments ever been entered against you?" Slate also responded "No" to Question 11(c), which stated: "I have attached to this Application certified copies of all judgments listed in 11(b), whether satisfied or unsatisfied, and listed below the names and present addresses (with zip codes) of the holders."

          Slate responded "No" to Question 18, the catchall question, which stated as follows:

Have there been any circumstances or unfavorable incidents in your life, whether at school, college, law school, business or otherwise, which may have a bearing upon your character or your fitness to practice law, not called for by the questionnaire or disclosed in your answers?
If so, give details, including any assertions or implication of dishonesty, misconduct, misrepresentation, financial irresponsibility, and disciplinary measures imposed (if any) by attaching a supplemental statement. You are not required to disclose, in response to this question, any juvenile proceeding or any criminal proceeding expunged pursuant to Maryland law. Maryland law does not permit expungement of convictions.[9]
Slate signed Question 20, which stated:
Affirmation of Applicant's Duty of Full, Candid Disclosure and Applicant's Continuing Duty to Submit Written Notice of Changes to Information Sought by the Application: I understand that the required disclosures in this questionnaire are of a continuing nature. I hereby acknowledge my duty to respond fully and candidly to each question or required disclosure and to ensure that my responses are accurate and current at all times until I am formally admitted to the Bar of the State of Maryland. I will advise the [SBLE] immediately and in writing of any changes in the information disclosed in or sought by this questionnaire, including any pertinent facts developed after the initial filing of this application and the facts of any incident occurring subsequent to the initial filing of this application.
I do solemnly declare and affirm under the penalties of perjury, that the matters and facts set forth in the foregoing application are true and accurate.
I have made and retained a copy of this entire application for my records and for use in the event that the original is lost in the mail or during the character investigation.

(Emphasis in original). Slate did not attach the Opinions to his bar application or summarize the Opinions in his bar application. Nor did Slate ever supplement his bar application with the Opinions.

         The hearing judge found that, while testifying at the disciplinary hearing, Slate "distinguished mandatory disclosures and attachments on the bar application from the ABC Case." Slate disputed that any part of the bar application required him to attach the Opinions. Slate opined that, in light of Question 11(b), the word "judgments, " as used in Question 11(c), refers only to money judgments, and thus did not apply to the Opinions.

         The hearing judge observed that, in the notice of appeal in the ABC Case, Slate referred to one of the Opinions as a "judgment." In any event, the hearing judge did not address whether Question 11 required Slate to disclose the Opinions. Instead, the hearing judge concluded that Question 18-the catchall question-required Slate to disclose the Opinions. The hearing judge determined that, by responding "No" to Question 18, Slate intentionally failed to disclose material information that reflected adversely on his character.

         Character Interview and Meeting with Character Committee's Co-Chairs

         On May 19, 2014, the SBLE received Slate's bar application, and, on the same date, Slate graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law. Slate passed the July 2014 Bar Examination. On November 2, 2014, [10] Slate signed an Affirmation by General Bar Applicant, in which he affirmed under oath that all of the facts in his bar application remained correct. The hearing judge found that Slate's affirmation was false.

         Slate's bar application was sent to the Character Committee for the Fourth Appellate Judicial Circuit. On November 18, 2014, as part of the character and fitness investigation, Joseph A. Compofelice, a member of the Character Committee, interviewed Slate. The hearing judge noted that Compofelice is responsible for following up on moral and ethical issues identified by the SBLE. If an applicant's character and fitness is called into question, Compofelice is responsible for recommending that the Character Committee's co-chairs, William C. Brennan, Jr. and Roger C. Thomas, schedule a hearing before a three-member panel.

         At the disciplinary hearing, Compofelice testified that, at the character interview, he questioned Slate about all forty-three civil cases, including the ABC Case, that he had disclosed in his bar application. Compofelice testified that Slate disclosed the ABC Case and its disposition. Specifically, Slate disclosed that the United States District Court for the District of Columbia had granted summary judgment and dismissed the ABC Case due to discovery violations, and that an appeal was pending. During the character interview, however, Slate did not disclose the Opinions or the findings therein. Compofelice testified that, had he known of the Opinions and the findings therein, "at a minimum[, ]" he would have recommended a hearing. Compofelice testified that he "absolutely believe[d]" that Slate should have disclosed the Opinions in his bar application.

         Based on the information in Slate's bar application and his representations during the character interview, Compofelice conditionally recommended his admission to the Bar of Maryland. Compofelice recommended, however, that Brennan and Thomas review Slate's ...


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