ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION, et al.
Argued: March 2, 2018
Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County Case No.
Barbera, C.J., Greene Adkins McDonald Watts Hotten Getty, JJ.
BARBERA, C. JUDGE
is not a flashy or glamorous area of the law. What it lacks
in luster, however, it makes up for in fundamental importance
in our legal system. As a threshold issue, one of significant
constitutional dimension, jurisdiction must be addressed
before a cause of action may proceed.
case began when the Appellee, Ty Clevenger, submitted to the
Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland a complaint
alleging professional misconduct by three Maryland-barred
attorneys while they were representing former Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton. The Office of Bar Counsel thereafter
informed Mr. Clevenger that it would not undertake an
investigation of the allegations in his complaint because he
had no personal knowledge of the allegations presented and
was not an aggrieved party or client.
Clevenger filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the
Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, seeking to compel Bar
Counsel to open an investigation into the alleged misconduct
of the named attorneys. The Attorney Grievance Commission and
Bar Counsel (collectively, "the Commission") filed
motions to dismiss the petition and to seal the case to
protect the confidentiality of the complaint and responses.
Mr. Clevenger opposed both motions. The circuit court granted
the motion to seal and denied the Commission's motion to
dismiss the petition. Following a hearing on the merits of
the mandamus petition, the circuit court ordered the
Commission to investigate the allegations presented in the
complaint. The circuit court also vacated its previous order
sealing the case.
granted a writ of certiorari to determine whether, before
reaching the merits of the case, the circuit court had
jurisdiction to entertain the petition for writ of mandamus.
For the reasons that follow, we hold that because this Court
has original and exclusive jurisdiction over attorney
disciplinary matters, of which Bar Counsel's decision to
investigate a complaint is a part, the circuit court was
without jurisdiction to consider and grant the mandamus
petition and to order Bar Counsel to conduct an investigation
of the allegations in Mr. Clevenger's complaint.
Facts and Procedural History
The Initial Complaints
Clevenger is a Texas-barred attorney residing in New York. On
September 1, 2016, he sent a letter to the Attorney Grievance
Commission of Maryland. In the letter, he alleged that three
Maryland attorneys who had worked for former Secretary of
State Clinton had engaged in inappropriate conduct that
violated the Maryland Attorneys' Rules of Professional
Conduct. Specifically, Mr. Clevenger alleged that the
attorneys violated Rules 19-308.3, 19-303.4(a), and
19-308.4(c) by destroying evidence related to ongoing federal
investigations, failing to report the misconduct of the other
attorneys, and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty. The
allegations appeared to Bar Counsel to be based solely on
information derived from publicly available sources.
September 7, 2016, Mr. Clevenger sent a second letter,
supplementing his complaint with additional information that
he obtained from publicly available sources and alleging a
further rule violation by one of the attorneys. Nearly three
weeks later, Deputy Bar Counsel Raymond A. Hein sent a letter
to Mr. Clevenger declining to conduct an investigation. Mr.
Hein's letter provided the following:
It appears that you have no personal knowledge of the
allegations presented in your correspondence, nor are you a
personally aggrieved client or party possessing material
information that would assist this office in reviewing such
allegations. Under these circumstances, we decline to conduct
an investigation of the named attorneys with you designated
as the complainant.
The Maryland Rules grant Bar Counsel authority to open a
complaint on Bar Counsel's own initiative. Pursuant to
Maryland Rule 19-707(b), the records of an investigation by
Bar Counsel, including the existence and content of any
complaint or response, are confidential. In accordance with
that rule, we are unable to provide you with additional
letter dated October 17, 2016, Mr. Clevenger replied,
asserting that Bar Counsel's actions failed to comply
with Maryland law because, in his view, Bar Counsel was
required by rule to conduct an investigation. Mr. Clevenger
also stated his belief that he had grounds to seek mandamus
relief from the Court of Appeals. On October 24, 2016, ...