Argued: April 5, 2018
Circuit Court for Howard County Case No. 13-C-17-111733
Barbera, C.J. Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty,
31, 2017, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland
("Petitioner" or "Bar Counsel"), acting
pursuant to Maryland Rule 19-721, filed a "Petition for
Disciplinary or Remedial Action" against William Michael
Jacobs ("Respondent"). The petition arose out of
Respondent's representation of one client in two separate
personal injury matters. Petitioner alleged that Respondent
violated Maryland Attorneys' Rules of Professional
Conduct ("MARPC" or "Rule") specifically,
19-301.1 (Competence),  19-301.3 (Diligence),  19-301.4
(Communication),  19-301.16 (Declining or Terminating
Representation),  19-308.1 (Bar Admission and Disciplinary
Matters),  and 19-308.4 (Misconduct).
Court referred the matter to the Honorable Mary M. Kramer of
the Circuit Court for Howard County for a hearing and to
render findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to
Rule 19-727. Judge Kramer conducted an evidentiary
hearing on November 21, 2017. Thereafter, Judge Kramer issued
a Statement of Findings and Conclusions, in which she found,
by clear and convincing evidence, that Respondent's acts
constituted violations of Rules 19-301.1, 19-301.3,
19-301.4(a), 19-301.16(d), 19-308.1(b), 19-308.4(a) and
For the reasons explained herein, we conclude that the
hearing judge's conclusions of law as to violations of
the aforementioned Rules were supported by clear and
convincing evidence. Additionally, we sustain
Petitioner's exception and hold that Respondent also
violated Rule 19-308.4(d).
summarize and quote the hearing judge's findings of fact
below. Respondent was admitted to the Maryland Bar on
December 20, 1983. He is a solo practioner with offices
located in Howard County, Maryland. On March 11, 2001, Ms.
Luen Mei Yu was involved in a car accident in Montgomery
County, Maryland. On November 25, 2002, Ms. Yu went to the
law offices of Marc Ward, Esquire, in Frederick, Maryland to
obtain representation with regard to injuries she sustained
during the car accident. Mr. Ward referred the case to
Respondent. Ms. Yu retained Respondent on a contingent fee
basis to file suit against Terry Stupay, the alleged
negligent driver of the other vehicle involved in the
March 11, 2004, Respondent, on behalf of Ms. Yu, filed a
Complaint in the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery
County to recover damages for Ms. Yu's injuries arising
out of the March 11, 2001 automobile accident. On April 12,
2004, the court issued a summons to be served upon Mr. Stupay
by May 12, 2004. "Respondent located an address for
Defendant Stupay using an internet service, and attempted to
serve the Defendant at that address by certified mail."
Mr. Stupay was not served by May 12, 2004.
September 14, 2005, the District Court of Maryland for
Montgomery County dismissed the case pursuant to Maryland
Rule 3-507 for lack of jurisdiction because the
Defendant had not been served. Respondent never notified Ms.
Yu that he was unable to serve Mr. Stupay and that her case
had been dismissed because of the failure to serve the
On November 4, 2005, Respondent filed a Motion to Defer the
Effect of Rule 3-507 indicating that, 'Plaintiff now has
a good current address for Defendant and will take steps to
renew the summons and effectuate service promptly.' He
stated further that he 'has diligently attempted to
locate Defendant since the suit was filed.' On November
30, 2005, the District Court granted the motion and issued a
10, 2009, nearly four years after the issuance of the second
summons, Respondent requested that the District Court reissue
a summons for Mr. Stupay. A third summons was issued on July
6, 2009 to the same address as the first summons.
filed another Motion to Defer Effect of Rule 3-507 on August
26, 2009. In his Motion, Respondent stated, "Plaintiff
was unable to complete service due in part to the Clerk's
premature dismissal of the case while the Summons was still
valid and pending." He also stated that he "has
diligently attempted to locate Defendant since this suit was
filed." Respondent did not offer any supporting evidence
of his attempts to serve Mr. Stupay. The Court granted the
Motion on September 9, 2009. Respondent did not inform Ms. Yu
that her case had been dismissed, that the court granted his
motion to reopen the case, or that he was having trouble
serving Mr. Stupay.
case was dismissed again on November 24, 2010, pursuant to
Maryland Rule 3-507, because the Defendant had not been
served. There was no response from Respondent. "At this
point, the statute of limitations had expired on Ms. Yu's
case, and she was foreclosed from recovery for her injuries.
Respondent failed to take any further action on behalf of Ms.
Yu and he failed to advise her that her complaint had, once
again, been dismissed." Respondent never attempted to
serve Mr. Stupay by alternate service.
14, 2004, Ms. Yu was involved in another collision in
Montgomery County, Maryland. Ms. Yu retained Respondent, on
an unknown date, to represent her in that case. On June 14,
2007, Respondent, acting on behalf of Ms. Yu, filed a
Complaint in the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery
County against Denis Lopez, the driver of the other vehicle
involved, and Marcy Hunter, the alleged owner of the vehicle.
20, 2009, almost two years later, the District Court
dismissed the case pursuant to Maryland Rule 3-507 because
Defendant Lopez had not been served. Respondent filed a
Motion to Defer Effect of Rule 3-507 on June 10, 2009. The
hearing judge found in the 2004 claim against Denis Lopez:
In the Motion Respondent stated, 'Plaintiff now has a
good current address for [the] Defendant[s] and will take
steps to renew the summons and effectuate service
promptly.' Respondent stated further that he 'has
diligently attempted to locate [the] Defendant[s] since this
suit was filed.' Respondent did not offer any evidence of
what attempts were made to effectuate service. The District
Court vacated the dismissal on June 26, 2009.
September 27, 2010, pursuant to Maryland Rule 3-507, the
District Court had dismissed the case because Defendant Lopez
had not been served. On October 22, 2010, Respondent filed
another Motion to Defer Effect of Rule 3-507. In his Motion,
Respondent stated that "there was good cause for delay
in service due to [the] inability to locate either Defendant,
despite good faith efforts to do so." Respondent,
however, failed to offer any evidence of his attempts to
effectuate service. The court denied the motion on November
three weeks later, Respondent requested that the District
Court reconsider its denial of his Motion to Defer Effect of
Rule 3-507. "Again, Respondent failed to provide any
evidence of what good faith efforts were made to effectuate
service on the Defendants." On December 27, 2010 the
District Court denied the motion. In its denial, the court
stated that there was no "evidence of any efforts to
reissue or serve the unserved defendant." The hearing
Throughout the pendency of the representation, the Respondent
failed to promptly inform Ms. Yu about his difficulties
serving the Defendants, failed to keep Ms. Yu reasonably
informed about the status of the matter, and failed to
promptly comply with her reasonable requests for information.
At this point, the statute of limitations had expired on Ms.
Yu's case and she was foreclosed from recovery for her
Counsel and Respondent disagreed about Ms. Yu's fluency
in English. The hearing judge discussed Ms. Yu's command
of the English language "because it [wa]s, in part,
Respondent's explanation for why he did not communicate
with Respondent in writing." The hearing judge
Ms. Yu was born in Indonesia and has been in the United
States since 1985. She is a United States citizen who
completed her education to become a Licensed Practical Nurse
("LPN") in the United States. . . . Ms. Yu speaks
English at her job and has been an LPN for thirteen years.
Ms. Yu was able to testify and respond to questions posed to
her [during the disciplinary proceedings in the Circuit
Court.] However, at one time in her testimony, Ms. Yu had
difficulty with the term: 'fax transmission sheet.'
Ms. Yu's writing in English communicates effectively,
even if her English is not perfect. Ms. Yu's
understanding of the written English language is not as
clear. She testified that she signed the Contingent Fee
Retainer Agreement with Respondent without first reading it.
When Respondent asked Ms. Yu to read the Contingent Fee
Retainer Agreement in court, Ms. Yu appeared extremely
Kramer concluded that Ms. Yu had a "functional"
command of the English language, "although she may
struggle with unfamiliar terms or vocabulary." According
to the hearing judge:
Respondent contend[ed] that he and Ms. Yu mutually agreed to
communicate orally and not in writing. Ms. Yu did not address
this contention in her testimony. Ms. Yu indicated that it
was she who would initiate communication with Respondent. She
would call Respondent from time to time to check on the
progress of her cases, and on each occasion, Respondent would
update Ms. Yu's address and phone number and indicate
that her cases were 'in progress' or that he was
trying to get more money from the other side. Ms. Yu insisted
that Respondent never indicated to her in these conversations
that there were any difficulties with her cases.
Respondent claim[ed] that Ms. Yu has a poor memory of what
occurred in her cases. There was some support for this
position. At the time of the hearing, Ms. Yu was adamant that
the first auto accident in which Respondent represented her
had occurred in 1998.
"Ms. Yu's refusal to concede that she was incorrect
on the date of the accident impaired her credibility, "
the hearing judge did not believe that Ms. Yu intentionally
gave false testimony. Rather it was the hearing judge's
impression that Ms. Yu "stubbornly adhered to her
version of the events, " even when she was mistaken
about some of the details.
Kramer found that Ms. Yu's memory of specific facts was
not completely accurate:
In one instance, Ms. Yu changed her testimony. On direct
examination, Ms. Yu testified that when she went to Marc
Ward's office, she thought Respondent was Mr. Ward. Ms.
Yu changed her testimony on cross-examination. When
confronted, she said she met with Mr. Ward in a small room,
and then met with Respondent.
There was also an occasion when Respondent changed his
testimony. He testified that for Ms. Yu's first auto
accident, a hit and run, Ms. Yu had only given him a name and
phone number for the other driver, and that Ms. Yu had gone
to the police station to file a report after the accident had
cross-examination, however, Respondent admitted that a police
officer interviewed Ms. Yu at the scene of the accident and
completed a police report.
The police report contained a tag number for the vehicle that
collided with Ms. Yu, and that tag number was provided by Ms.
Yu to the police officer. When asked about the tag number for
the other car on the police report, Respondent indicated that
it was probably a temporary tag that could not be traced.
and Ms. Yu agree that they met at Respondent's office in
December 2010, but they disagree on the "purpose and
outcome of that meeting." Ms. Yu contends that the two
of them met so that she could obtain Respondent's
representation for another car accident in which she had been
involved. Respondent agreed that they discussed a third
automobile accident case but stated that he had declined to
represent Ms. Yu in that matter. He asserted that the meeting
was held "at his request to inform Ms. Yu that her cases
had been dismissed and to let her know that he would hold the
files for a period of three years before they would be
destroyed, per his office policy." Ms. Yu adamantly
denied that this discussion took place at that meeting.
hearing judge found Ms. Yu to be more credible on the issue
of whether Respondent informed Ms. Yu of the dismissal of her
cases in December 2010 because it was a significant fact that
Ms. Yu was unlikely to forget. Judge Kramer found that
"Ms. Yu's conduct was consistent with her contention
that she was not aware that her cases were dismissed. She
continued to try to contact Respondent, first by leaving
telephone messages for him, and later by sending him a letter
by fax and one by mail." Ms. Yu also reached out to a
friend's brother who was an attorney and discussed her
cases with that attorney.
according to the hearing judge, "Respondent's
subsequent conduct was not consistent with his position that
he had told Ms. Yu in 2010 that her cases were dismissed. He
did not return phone calls from Ms. Yu. He did not respond to
the November 23, 2014 letter from Ms. Yu." Judge Kramer
reasoned that "had Respondent previously told Ms. Yu
about the dismissal of her cases and the office policy of
destroying files, one would expect that he would reply to
this letter reminding Ms. Yu of that conversation. He did not
testified that after the December 2010 meeting she called
Respondent numerous times and never got a response. The
hearing judge explained her findings:
[A]s a result, Ms. Yu sent two letters to Respondent asking
for the return of her files. The first letter was faxed in
July 2014, and the second was mailed to Respondent in
November 2014. Respondent indicated he did not get the July
2014 letter until he received it as an enclosure to the
November 2014 letter, and he indicated that he no longer had
a fax machine as of 2012.
Interestingly, Ms. Yu is the only party who documented her
position in writing. She wrote to Respondent in 2014 asking
Respondent to return her files. In her letter, she indicated
that she had left numerous telephone messages for Respondent
that were not returned. Respondent did not respond to this
letter in writing. At the time of the hearing, when asked why
he did not reply to Ms. Yu's November 2014 letter,
Respondent indicated that he had delays in receiving mail.
attributed this delay to his inability to retrieve the mail
from his office's mail chute. He also offered as a reason
for his non-response that Ms. Yu did not list her name or
address on the envelope. "He then corrected himself, and
stated that he probably did not open the envelope when it
arrived because it may have been a holiday." The hearing
judge found Respondent's response to the question about
why he did not respond to the November 2014 letter to be
"circular and not credible" and that
"[Respondent] seemed to give a lot of detail in order to
buy time to think of an answer."
communication with Bar Counsel went from inconsistent to
nonexistent. Respondent only sent one letter to Bar Counsel.
In that letter, dated April 7, 2016,
Respondent detailed his response to the allegations in Ms.
Yu's complaint. He stated that he did not receive Ms.
Yu's letter of July 2014 'until he received it as an
attachment to her November 2014 letter.' The Respondent
stated further that he was not able to give Ms. Yu a copy of
her file because the files had been destroyed pursuant to his
office's retention policy, which, he alleged was to
destroy his files three years after he closed the case. The
Respondent further ...