Argued: April 9, 2018
Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No.
Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten,
BARBERA, C. JUDGE
January 30, 2017, Petitioner, the Attorney Grievance
Commission of Maryland, acting through Bar Counsel, filed in
this Court a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action
("Petition") against Respondents Steven Anthony
Lang and Olayemi Isaac Falusi. From November 2012 to February
2014, Mr. Lang and Mr. Falusi were partners in Lang &
Mr. Lang, the Petition alleged violations of the Maryland
Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct
("MLRPC") 1.1 (Competence), 1.2 (Scope of
Representation), 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4(a) and (b)
(Communication), 1.5(a) (Fees), 1.15(a) and (c) (Safekeeping
Property), 1.16(d) (Declining or Terminating Representation),
3.3 (Candor Toward the Tribunal), 5.5(a) (Unauthorized
Practice of Law; Multijurisdictional Practice of Law), 7.1(a)
(Communications Concerning a Lawyer's Services), 7.5(a)
(Firm Names and Letterheads), 8.1(a) and (b) (Bar Admission
and Disciplinary Matters), and 8.4(a), (c), and (d)
(Misconduct). The Petition also alleged that Mr. Lang
violated Maryland Rules 16-603 (Duty to maintain account),
16-604 (Trust account - Required deposits), and 16-606.1
(Attorney trust account record-keeping).
Petition alleged that Mr. Falusi violated MLRPC 1.1, 1.2,
1.3, 1.4(a) and (b), 1.5(a), 1.15(a) and (c), 1.16(d), 3.3,
5.5(a) and (b), 7.1(a), 7.5(a), 8.1(a) and (b), and 8.4(a),
(b), (c), and (d). As with Mr. Lang, the Petition also
alleged violations of Maryland Rules 16-603, 16-604, and
16-606.1. Finally, the Petition alleged that Mr. Falusi
violated Maryland Code Annotated, Business Occupations &
Professions ("BOP") § 10-601 (Bar admission
required to practice law in the State).
violations stemmed from Respondents' conduct as partners
of Lang & Falusi, LLP; their representation of multiple
clients; Mr. Falusi's application to the Bar of Maryland;
and Bar Counsel's investigation of Respondents.
Court transmitted the matter to the Circuit Court for Prince
George's County and designated the Honorable Robin D.
Gill Bright ("the hearing judge") to conduct an
evidentiary hearing and make findings of fact and conclusions
of law. Respondents filed timely responses to the Petition,
and an evidentiary hearing took place on November 6 and 8,
2017. At the hearing, the judge heard testimony from
Respondents and four witnesses, one of whom testified by way
of a video deposition.
considering the hearing judge's findings of fact and
conclusions of law and independently reviewing the record, we
adopt in large part the hearing judge's proposed findings
of fact and conclusions of law. Based on the rule violations
we have determined the Respondents committed, as well as
aggravating and mitigating factors we have identified, we
indefinitely suspend both Respondents.
The Hearing Judge's Findings of Fact
summarize here the findings of fact made by the hearing
judge, supported by clear and convincing evidence.
Lang was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 2010 and the
Maryland Bar in 2012. Mr. Falusi was admitted to the
Massachusetts Bar in 2009 and, after applying in 2011, was
admitted to the Maryland Bar in 2016. In November 2012, Mr.
Falusi registered a limited liability partnership named
"Lang & Falusi, LLP" ("the Firm")
with the Maryland State Department of Assessments &
Taxation ("SDAT"). The partnership was created to
provide professional legal services. The Firm's principal
office was listed as an address in Silver Spring, Maryland,
but it operated out of an office in Lanham, Maryland. The two
initially arranged to share office space and expenses but to
maintain their own separate practices, with Mr. Lang
practicing criminal law and Mr. Falusi practicing immigration
January 2013 to December 2013, Mr. Lang and Mr. Falusi
occupied the Lanham office. The Firm's letterhead listed
the Lanham address, a website, and phone and fax numbers. The
letterhead also included a legend with two symbols-one was
labeled "†† Barred in Maryland and
Massachusetts" and the other "† Barred in
Massachusetts"- but neither symbol appeared next to a
name, and thus the symbols did not indicate to which attorney
they applied. Respondents also maintained a website for the
Firm, which advertised the Firm's attorneys and listed
the services they offered. The website provided:
Attorney Falusi represents clients in various areas of law,
and due to his unique background, his case dockets are
overwhelmingly on immigration law and criminal defense. He
has successfully handled countless family-based immigration
visas, change of status, and adjustment of status. He also
handles political asylum, employment based visas, as
domestic/VAWA matters. Moreover, his experience as a criminal
defense attorney and a former prosecutor has served many of
his clients prudently. Mr. Falusi is a member of the Bar of
the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the United States
District Court, First Circuit.
separate page on the Firm's website, "Areas of
Practice," listed various areas in which the Firm's
attorneys practiced, including "Product
Liability/Warranties, Federal Criminal defense, Malpractice,
Immigration, Bankruptcy, Criminal law, Business Law, Contract
Law, [and] Family Law (Divorce, Custody, Asset Conservation,
Support Modification)." The description, however, did
not specify which attorney practiced in which areas. A
layperson may have surmised that Mr. Falusi was a Maryland
attorney who focused on immigration matters rather than an
attorney whose practice was limited to immigration matters
(as he was not yet admitted in Maryland).
February 4, 2014, Mr. Falusi filed a Withdrawal of Limited
Liability Registration with SDAT, dissolving the Firm.
& Falusi, LLP's PNC Bank Operating Account
of the Respondents ever established an attorney trust account
for the Firm. Instead, they used a bank account at PNC Bank
(the "Operating Account"), which was established
and managed by Mr. Falusi. Bank statements from that account
and two transaction summaries prepared by Bar Counsel were
admitted into evidence. Relevant here, those records showed
various deposits from the Operating Account for legal
services, which included several checks with no reference in
the memo line and other checks for "legal work,"
"legal fee," and "attorney fees." In
addition, a $4, 000.00 check made payable to Diane Holder and
Lang & Falusi, LLP was deposited into the Operating
Account for Mr. Falusi's representation of Ms. Holder in
a Massachusetts personal injury case. A check for $2, 500.00
was disbursed from the Operating Account to Ms. Holder and
referenced "case settlement" in the memo line. The
hearing judge further found:
On November 18, 2013, Respondent Falusi deposited check
#6619823 for Eight Thousand and 00/100 Dollars ($8, 000) from
USAA Casualty Insurance Company, payable to Lang &
Falusi, LLP and a third party, Olivia Lang. Respondent Lang
handled a personal injury case for his daughter, Olivia 
Lang, and provided legal representation in connection with
the settlement. Respondent Lang received check #147 for One
Thousand and 00/100 Dollars ($1, 000) for "legal work
done" on November 19, 2013. On November 21, 2013, check
#146 for Six Thousand and 00/100 Dollars ($6, 000) was
disbursed from the Operating Account to Olivia Lang.
of Abby Daramola
November 2010, Deeds Realty Services ("Deeds
Realty") filed a complaint against Abby Daramola in the
District Court of Maryland sitting in Baltimore City. Deeds
Realty claimed that Ms. Daramola wrote a bad check, in the
amount of $6, 000.00, due to insufficient funds. On March 4,
2011, Deeds Realty won an affidavit judgment against Ms.
Daramola for $6, 035.00. When she failed to make a payment on
the judgment, Deeds Realty asked the court to direct her to
appear for an oral examination. The first oral examination
was held in February 2012, but it was not completed and was
rescheduled. Ms. Daramola failed to appear at the second oral
examination, and the court issued an order to show cause.
After Ms. Daramola did not appear at the hearing on the show
cause order, the court issued a writ of body attachment.
evidentiary hearing in this disciplinary proceeding, Mr.
Falusi testified that one day, after a service at a church to
which they both belonged, Ms. Daramola asked him to call
Deeds Realty's attorney, Saul Jablon, to negotiate a
payment plan. Mr. Falusi called Mr. Jablon and stated that he
was representing Ms. Daramola. The two reached a settlement,
and Ms. Daramola was to repay the amount in installments. On
May 3, 2013, Mr. Jablon sent Mr. Falusi a letter with a copy
of the judgment, which included post-judgment costs. Mr.
Falusi drafted a settlement agreement for $7, 565.64, which
stated that Ms. Daramola would pay $1, 000.00 upon executing
the agreement and subsequent monthly installments of $500.00
towards the balance. The parties stipulated that Ms. Daramola
would have a fifteen-day grace period on the monthly
installments, and Deeds Realty would not make a report on Ms.
Daramola's credit. After consulting with Mr. Falusi, Ms.
Daramola signed the settlement agreement and gave it to Mr.
Falusi. On or about May 10, 2013, Mr. Falusi sent a letter on
the Firm's letterhead (which he signed "O. Isaac
Falusi, Esq.") to Mr. Jablon requesting a signature on
the settlement agreement. Enclosed was a check in the amount
of $1, 000.00. The check, made out to the "Law Office of
Saul Jablon for the Abby Daramola Case," was issued from
the Operating Account.
13, 2013, Mr. Jablon asked the court to withdraw its finding
of contempt and cancel the show cause hearing. Ms. Daramola
subsequently defaulted on her payments. Mr. Jablon called Mr.
Falusi to inform him of the default, and Mr. Falusi said he
would contact Ms. Daramola and call him back. Mr. Falusi did
not do so.
of Justina Ikpim
2009, Justina Ikpim made a loan to Williams Areloegbe.
Thereafter, she contacted Mr. Falusi for legal advice as to
whether she had a cognizable claim against Mr. Areleogbe. On
March 15, 2013, a $135.00 check from Ms. Ikpim to Lang &
Falusi, LLP was deposited into the Operating Account. On
March 26, 2013, on behalf of Ms. Ikpim, Mr. Falusi filed in
the Circuit Court for Prince George's County a Civil -
Non-Domestic Case Information Report bearing his signature.
He also filed a complaint bearing Mr. Lang's signature.
The names of Respondents appeared below the signature line in
the complaint, as did the name of the Firm and its Lanham
address. Court records identified Respondents as the
attorneys of record, but Mr. Falusi never attempted to appear
pro hac vice. On March 27, 2013, payment in the
amount of $143.55 was disbursed from the Operating Account to
the Circuit Court for Prince George's County.
of Dennis Bean
30, 2013, in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County,
foreclosure action 377650V ("First Foreclosure
Action") was initiated for a piece of property located
on Brunswick Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland
("Property"), and owned by Dennis Bean. Mr. Bean
had defaulted on payments for a home equity line of credit,
which was secured by a second mortgage on his home. In July
2013, Mr. Bean twice met with Respondents at their Lanham
office to discuss Mr. Bean's foreclosure case. Among
other things, Mr. Bean provided them with information
concerning the trustee for the first of his three mortgages,
Samuel I. White, P.C., a Virginia law firm. He also informed
Respondents that his first mortgage was approximately $170,
9, 2013, Mr. Bean retained Lang & Falusi, LLP by way of a
Flat Fee Agreement ("Agreement"). The Agreement was
drafted by Mr. Falusi and printed on Firm letterhead, and it
provided that Mr. Bean would pay a flat fee of $3, 500.00.
The Agreement listed Mr. Bean as "Client" and
"Lang & Falusi, LLP, the firm and its members and
Associates, etc." as "Attorneys." The
Agreement contained the following clause:
If the fee stated above is based on fixed fee, and a retainer
is advanced, and payments are made in installment by the
Client by initialing heretofore Client consents that any
advances and/or payments foretasted is the property of the
Attorneys and can be held elsewhere other than a trust
account, and used in furtherance of the representation, and
upon early termination but without a conclusion of the object
of the representation, any unearned fees will be returned
after a full accounting by the Attorneys.
Mr. Bean initialed on the line following this notice and
signed at the end of the Agreement, but neither Respondent
clarified or explained the risks involved. Mr. Falusi signed
on a line marked "Witness," which listed
Respondents' names below. Mr. Lang did not sign the
Agreement. Mr. Bean's check for $3, 500.00, payable to
Lang & Falusi, LLP, was deposited into the Operating
Account on July 15, 2013.
Bean exchanged many emails with Respondents throughout the
course of the representation. On July 9, 2013, Mr. Bean
emailed Mr. Falusi documents related to the Property and home
equity line of credit. Mr. Falusi responded on July 12, 2013,
and confirmed that he had received the email. On July 16,
2013, when he had not received an answer on his motion to
postpone the First Foreclosure Action, Mr. Bean emailed Mr.
Falusi and asked how long it typically takes to
receive a response. On July 17, 2013, Mr. Falusi replied that
he would "check with the court tomorrow," but that
between fifteen and thirty days was normal. The next day, on
July 18, Mr. Falusi relayed to Mr. Bean that he had spoken
with the clerk's office about the motion, which had not
yet been ruled on.
Lang entered an appearance on July 23, 2013, in the First
Foreclosure Action. As to the second mortgage, the
plaintiffs/trustees were represented by Kristine D. Brown. On
July 26, 2013, Mr. Lang filed a motion for a preliminary
injunction. The motion alleged that the plaintiff's
filing of the First Foreclosure Action was deficient in a
number of respects. Based on those deficiencies, the motion
stated, "Defendant seeks to file a lawsuit against the
Trustee for breach of her fiduciary duty." The plaintiff
opposed the motion. On July 25, 2013, the court dismissed the
First Foreclosure Action without prejudice.
September 3, 2013, prompted by a letter he received showing
that his first mortgage had been assigned to Green Tree
Servicing, Mr. Bean emailed Respondents. Mr. Lang replied,
detailing a strategy of filing a lawsuit to void the Deed of
Trust. Mr. Bean again emailed Respondents on
September 20, 2013, to voice his concern about the case. Mr.
Falusi reassured Mr. Bean that he would respond within the
time period allowed, writing that "[t]he firm gives a 30
day period to respond and we shall do so before the 30 days
is over." On September 24, 2013, Mr. Falusi sent a
letter on Firm letterhead to Samuel I. White, P.C. regarding
Mr. Bean's first mortgage. Mr. Falusi noted that the Firm
had been retained to represent Mr. Bean in the matter, stated
Mr. Bean's dispute of the $172, 350.85 debt, and
requested further information about the original creditor
(which was to be sent to the Lanham address on the
letterhead). Mr. Falusi signed the letter above a typed
signature line reading "O. Isaac Falusi, Esquire";
he did not mention that he was not barred in Maryland or that
only Mr. Lang was representing Mr. Bean.
September 26, 2013, Mr. Bean emailed Respondents to ask about
the course of the representation. Mr. Falusi replied,
"We have sent out correspondence to them, . . . however
we can proceed with what you forwarded to us. Yes we are
pursuing all options available to us." Subsequently, on
October 24, 2013, Mr. Lang informed Mr. Bean that he was
"now ready to move forward with your case" and that
he "will be working on it today." He also described
"our plan to file a petition for a declaratory judgment
voiding your deed of trust" and objecting to "any
foreclosure action [that] has taken place."
December 27, 2013, another foreclosure action, case number
385388V, relating to Mr. Bean's second mortgage, was
docketed in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County
("Second Foreclosure Action"). On January 14, 2014,
Mr. Lang filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, which
was nearly identical to the one filed in the First
Foreclosure Action. As in the First Foreclosure Action, the
plaintiffs/trustees were represented by Kristine D. Brown.
February 5, 2014, Mr. Bean emailed Mr. Falusi to ask him if
he had been receiving his emails because nobody had
responded. Mr. Bean stated: "If you are not going to
help just let me know so I move forward [sic] and
figure out my next step." Mr. Falusi replied on February
6, 2014, though from a different email address, and stated
that he had received Mr. Bean's emails. Mr. Falusi
[W]e were working on merger and the merger is now in full
force as you can tell from the name and address in the
signature area. Steve is not on board on the merged entity
but he and I are still working on your case and we will work
on it until the final outcome. . . . We are gearing up for
the next filing and keep the emails coming.
addition to Mr. Falusi's name, "O. Isaac Falusi,
Esquire," his signature block contained the name of a
new law firm, "Thoronka, Taiwo, Thoronka & Falusi,
PC," with an address in Silver Spring, Maryland.
court denied Mr. Lang's motion for a preliminary
injunction in the Second Foreclosure Action that same day,
February 6, 2014, and set a hearing for February 27, 2014.
Having learned that the court denied the motion, Mr. Bean
sent another email to Mr. Falusi and asked about the plan
going forward. He also expressed concern about the
Respondents having separated and the Firm being dissolved.
The next day, on February 7, 2014, Mr. Falusi replied,
telling him that "we are still working together on your
case and many other cases we have together." Mr. Falusi
also explained that he and Mr. Lang were parting ways because
of their different goals.
February 18, 2014, Mr. Falusi told Mr. Bean that he was
working on a complaint and hoped to file it in District Court
later that day. On February 24, 2014, in response to Mr.
Bean's inquiry about whether the complaint had been
filed, Mr. Falusi confirmed that it had. Also on February 24,
2014, three days before the hearing in the Second Foreclosure
Action, Mr. Lang informed Mr. Bean that he would not be
present, but that he would file a motion to postpone the
case. The next day, Mr. Bean asked what would happen if the
court denied the motion and nobody appeared at the hearing.
Mr. Falusi then provided Mr. Bean with the case number for
the new case, but neither he nor Mr. Lang responded to Mr.
Lang filed a request for an extension two days before the
hearing in the Second Foreclosure Action. Mr. Lang claimed,
without any supporting documentation, that he would be unable
to appear because he was in Chicago, Illinois working on a
different case. Mr. Lang's motion did not state the
opposing party's position on the request. On February 27,
2014, the court had not ruled on the motion, and the hearing
proceeded without Mr. Lang. The court granted the
trustee's motion for leave to proceed with the
foreclosure. Mr. Bean contacted Mr. Falusi on March 5, 2014,
stating that he looked up his case and saw what had happened
at the hearing. Mr. Falusi answered the next day, remarking
that the decision did "not bode well" for them, but
he reassured Mr. Bean that if they "win the fight on the
new matter-voiding the title, then it would void everything
they are doing. We are also looking into filing a motion to
vacate this recent judge's order."
to that strategy, on February 19, 2014, Respondents had filed
a new action for declaratory judgment against Kristine D.
Brown in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, case number
387359V, on Mr. Bean's behalf. The lawsuit sought to void
the Deed of Trust related to the second mortgage. On April
25, 2014, while the declaratory judgment action was ongoing,
Samuel I. White, P.C. filed in the Circuit Court for
Montgomery County a new, separate action concerning Mr.
Bean's first mortgage, case number 390048V.
23, 2014, Mr. Bean requested from Mr. Lang copies of all
documents and filings in his case. On August 22, 2014, Mr.
Bean emailed Mr. Falusi and noted his concern that nothing
had been filed in his case and that a sale of the Property
was scheduled for September 6, 2014. On August 29, 2014, Mr.
Bean again emailed Mr. Falusi, but this time he expressed his
frustration with Respondents' lack of communication and
involvement in the case. Mr. Bean advised that if Respondents
failed to assist him, he would be forced to obtain new
counsel, and he again requested copies of his entire client
file. Respondents did not provide Mr. Bean with a copy of his
client file until on or about November 12, 2014.
August 30, 2014, Mr. Lang emailed Mr. Bean. In the email, Mr.
Lang stated that he neither participated in the case
involving Mr. Bean's first mortgage nor appeared in the
pending action concerning Mr. Bean's first mortgage. On
September 8, 2014, Mr. Lang moved to withdraw as counsel in
the Second Foreclosure Action. On September 11, 2014, the
court notified Mr. Lang that he had not properly withdrawn
under Maryland Rule 2-132(b). On September 29, 2014, Mr. Lang
filed a Certification of Notice, which was dated August 26,
2014, and a Disengagement Letter, which was dated September
24, 2014. As to the Certification of Notice, Mr. Lang
conceded that he wrote it after he received notice from the
court. Mr. Bean was not sent a copy of the Certification of
Notice; he discovered it in his client file later that year.
defendant in the action for declaratory judgment filed a
motion to dismiss on September 19, 2014. Mr. Lang did not
file an opposition on Mr. Bean's behalf. On October 7,
2014, the court granted Mr. Lang's motion to withdraw as
Mr. Bean's counsel. On November 6, 2014, Mr. Bean wrote a
letter to the court. He stated that he had not received a
copy of the files in his case and that without them, it would
be difficult to proceed. On November 10, 2014, the
declaratory judgment action was dismissed with prejudice. On
or about November 12, 2014, Respondents provided Mr. Bean
with his client file. Mr. Bean did not receive an accounting
of work the Firm had done, nor was he refunded any portion of
the $3, 500.00 flat fee.
and Disbursements for Immigration Matters
Falusi also handled several immigration matters that involved
disbursements from and deposits into the Operating Account.
Between May 2013 and October 2013, five deposits were made:
two made no reference in the memo line, while the other three
were for "legal fees," "services," and
"immigration work." Three disbursements on behalf
of four of Mr. Falusi's immigration clients, in the
amounts of $1, 490.00, $590.00, and $680.00, were made from
the Operating Account to the U.S. Department of Homeland
Disbursements and Deposits
in February 2013 and continuing until December 2013, checks
for $550.00 each month, payable to the Annapolis Road
Professional Building for rental space, were disbursed from
the Operating Account. On September 10, 2013, a check from
the Annapolis Road Professional Building for $1, 250.00 was
deposited into the Operating Account. In addition, on January
20, 2014, a $3, 000.00 check was disbursed from the Operating
Account, payable to Guardian Building Associates, for a
security deposit and rent for an address in Silver Spring,
other disbursements from the Operating Account were made
between January 2013 and February 2014. Disbursements were
made, for example, to Victoria's Secret, Giant Food,
Ticketmaster, Enterprise Rental Car, Nordstrom's, and
Banana Republic. Unknown ATM withdrawals were also made from
the Operating Account. Other debits from the Operating
Account included payments to the Clerk of the Court for
Prince George's County, Montgomery County Government,
SDAT, FedEx, USPS, Sprint, and others.
deposits, on April 16, 2013, $8, 000.00 in cash was deposited
into the Operating Account, though other information
concerning this deposit is unknown. On April 19, 2013, a cash
withdrawal of $7, 979.82 was made from the Operating Account,
ostensibly for Mr. Falusi's child support payments in the
District of Columbia. Several other deposits and
disbursements were for attorney-related activity, including
payments of settlement money to clients and debits for
attorney-related matters. The Operating Account's
activity also included charges of a personal nature.
Counsel's Investigation of Mr. Lang
Counsel opened an investigation into Mr. Lang based on his
handling of client matters. Bar Counsel sent a letter to Mr.
Lang on December 15, 2014, requesting a response to a
complaint filed by Mr. Bean. Mr. Lang did not respond. Bar
Counsel sent another letter on January 26, 2015. Mr. Lang
replied on February 13, 2015, that he assisted Mr. Bean with
his defense in a foreclosure action. Mr. Lang also stated
that the declaratory judgment action was not part of the
representation agreement, but that he "did it for
free" to assist Mr. Bean.
response, on April 22, 2015, Bar Counsel requested a complete
copy of Mr. Bean's client file, including "trust
account records to demonstrate the legal fees paid by Mr.
Bean were maintained in trust from the date they were
received until they were fully earned." Mr. Lang
asserted that he did not have Mr. Bean's client file, he
had never handled any money, and Mr. Bean never gave him any
money. Bar Counsel also inquired as to why Mr. Lang had
failed to maintain an attorney trust account. On July 29,
2015, Mr. Lang answered that he received a waiver from the
IOLTA program and, thus, former Maryland Rule 16-606.1(d) did
not apply to him. Mr. Lang further claimed that the
Firm's monthly balance in the Operating Account was
roughly $2, 500.00, and that client funds were not enough to
on September 5, 2015, Mr. Lang sent a letter to Bar Counsel
with a further explanation of what had happened with Mr.
Bean's money. Mr. Lang stated that Mr. Bean gave a check
to his "assistant," which was paid through his
office, and that he did not personally receive the money. He
also advised that the Operating Account was located at PNC
Bank, but he could not access the account, did not know the
account number, and could not produce any bank records.
Counsel's Investigation of Mr. Falusi
Falusi was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 2009. On May
18, 2011, Mr. Falusi submitted an Application for Admission
to the Bar of Maryland to the State Board of Law Examiners
("Board"). In July 2011, he sat for the Maryland
Bar Examination, which he passed. His admission to the
Maryland Bar was delayed, however, because the member with
whom he initially interviewed recommended to the Character
Committee that a hearing be held. On February 27, 2012, the
Co-Chair of the Character Committee for the Fourth Appellate
Circuit, William C. Brennan, Jr., Esq., wrote to Mr. Falusi,
informing him that the Committee intended to conduct a
hearing pursuant to Rule 5 of the Rules Governing Admission
to the Bar. The Committee, Mr. Brennan wrote, would be
assessing whether Mr. Falusi possessed the requisite moral
character to practice law. The hearing was held on May 24,
2012. At the hearing, Mr. Falusi, who was not represented by
counsel, was confronted with the issues with which the
Committee was concerned, which included Mr. Falusi's 1997
criminal conviction in the District Court of Maryland for
Baltimore City for uttering a false document and various
credit and financial issues. The three-member panel of the
Committee, chaired by Mr. Brennan, gave Mr. Falusi more time
to resolve those issues.
Mr. Falusi retained John O. Iweanoge, II, Esq., to represent
him in the matter of his application for admission to the
Maryland Bar. On December 6, 2012, Mr. Iweanoge sent a letter
to Mr. Brennan informing him of the representation. Then, on
April 30, 2013, Mr. Iweanoge sent the Character Committee
eight exhibits to supplement Mr. Falusi's application to
the Bar. The eighth and final exhibit was a copy of Mr.
Falusi's resume. The resume listed Mr. Falusi's most
recent legal employment as a Contract Attorney for
"Buckley Sanders, LLP" from "February
2011" to "Present." He described his work
there as "[e]lectronic discovery and review of loan
documents for purpose of regulatory compliance." Mr.
Falusi failed to list on his resume his partnership at Lang
& Falusi, LLP, which, at the time he submitted the
resume, was an active law practice with an office in Lanham,
February 2015, after the Firm was dissolved, Mr. Falusi sent
additional financial documentation to the Character
Committee. Mr. Falusi was unassisted by counsel at that time.
On June 9, 2015, the three-member panel of the Character
Committee found, in a written report and by a 2-1 vote,
"that the Applicant has met his burden to demonstrate
that he presently possesses the requisite moral character for
admission to the Maryland Bar." The Committee noted that
Mr. Falusi "seems to have been careless in disclosing
his background information to the MA and MD bars but not to
the point where the Committee feels he was intentionally
hiding information." The dissenting panel member,
though, found "several instances" in which Mr.
Falusi made false statements of material fact.
January 27, 2016, the Board contacted Mr. Falusi to inform
him of a hearing on April 8, 2016, during which the Board
would consider whether Mr. Falusi possessed the requisite
character and fitness for admission to the Bar. After the
hearing, the Board notified the Clerk of the Court of Appeals
that it unanimously agreed with the majority of the Character
Committee. The Board therefore recommended that Mr. Falusi be
admitted to the Maryland Bar. Mr. Falusi appeared before the
Court of Appeals on June 1, 2016, where he took the oath of
admission to the Bar.
letter dated May 16, 2016, roughly two weeks before Mr.
Falusi was sworn in, Bar Counsel notified Mr. Falusi of Mr.
Bean's complaint and other issues and requested that he
respond. Mr. Falusi did not notify the Board or the Court of
Appeals before he took the oath of admission that he had been
contacted by Bar Counsel. On June 16, 2016, Mr. Falusi
replied to Bar Counsel. He stated that he "did not have
any relationship with Mr. Bean," and that when Mr. Bean
came to their office, Mr. Falusi advised him that he was not
licensed to practice law in Maryland. Mr. Falusi also relayed
to Bar Counsel that he communicated with Mr. Bean to assist
Mr. Lang. Mr. Falusi further stated that he only practiced
immigration law at the Firm, but he "perform[ed]
paralegal work if/when needed."
The Hearing Judge's Conclusions of Law
hearing judge determined that both Respondents violated MLRPC
1.1, 1.2(a), 1.3, 1.4(a) and (b), 1.5(a), 1.15(a), 1.16(d),
5.5(a), 7.1(a), 8.1, and 8.4; former Maryland Rules 16-603,
16-604, and 16-606.1; and BOP § 10-601. The hearing
judge also concluded that Mr. Falusi violated MLRPC 5.5(b).
Mr. Falusi excepts to each of the hearing judge's
conclusions of law. Bar Counsel excepts to the hearing
judge's general conclusions as to MLRPC 8.1 and 8.4,
asking us to find specific violations of each Rule. We shall
address each conclusion and, in the course of doing so, will
address the pertinent exceptions.
hearing judge found the following aggravating factors as to
Respondents Lang and Falusi: "pattern of misconduct;
multiple violations; and refusal to acknowledge the
misconduct's wrongful nature." The hearing judge did
not find that Respondents established any mitigating factors
by a preponderance of the evidence. Bar Counsel alleges the
existence of additional aggravating factors. Mr. Lang and Mr.
Falusi both advocate for mitigating factors and argue that
the hearing judge improperly found aggravating factors.
Standard of Review
attorney discipline proceedings, this Court has original and
complete jurisdiction and conducts an independent review of
the record." Attorney Grievance Comm'n v.
McLaughlin, 456 Md. 172, 190 (2017) (citation omitted).
We accept the hearing judge's findings of fact unless
those findings are clearly erroneous, and we "give
deference to the hearing judge's assessment of the
credibility of the witnesses." Attorney Grievance
Comm'n v. Butler, 441 Md. 352, 359 (2015). "A
hearing judge's factual finding is not clearly erroneous
if there is any competent material evidence to support
it." Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. McDonald,
437 Md. 1, 16 (2014) (citation omitted). Pursuant to Maryland
Rule 19-741(b)(1), we review the hearing judge's
conclusions of law without deference. Attorney Grievance
Comm'n v. Hamilton, 444 Md. 163, 178 (2015).
three parties elected to file, under Rule 19-728(b),
exceptions to the hearing judge's findings of fact and
conclusions of law and recommendations for sanction. We
determine whether the hearing judge's findings met the
standards in Rule 19-727(c). And, under Rule 19-741(b)(2)(B),
our review is limited to the findings of fact challenged by
the exceptions. If no exceptions are filed as to a particular
fact, we may treat it as established. Md. Rule
19-741(b)(2)(A). We also note that a hearing judge, in
assessing the credibility of witnesses and making findings of
fact, is free to "pick and choose which evidence to rely
upon." Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Hodes,
441 Md. 136, 181 (2014) (citations omitted). In that same
vein, a hearing judge need not "mention every
evidentiary matter" in its findings of fact.
Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Vanderlinde, 364
Md. 376, 384 (2001).
attorney must show the presence of mitigating circumstances
by a preponderance of the evidence. Attorney Grievance
Comm'n v. Joseph, 422 Md. 670, 695 (2011) (citations
omitted). The existence of aggravating factors must be
demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence. Md. Rule
19-727(c) ("Bar Counsel has the burden of proving the
averments of the petition by clear and convincing
evidence."); Attorney Grievance Comm'n v.
Eckel, 443 Md. 75, 85 n.5 (2015) (noting that
aggravating factors must be proven by clear and convincing
evidence and not, as the hearing judge indicated, by a
preponderance of the evidence).
Falusi's Factual Exceptions
Regarding the Factual Background
Falusi filed a number of exceptions to the hearing
judge's findings of fact. He first takes issue with the
hearing judge's assessment of the Firm's letterhead,
arguing that the hearing judge simply failed to understand
the meaning of the symbols next to Respondents' names.
This contention is unfounded. Mr. Falusi's
explanation-though he concedes it was "not clearly
marked"-is that Mr. Lang's name, which was listed
first on the letterhead, corresponded to the top designation
("†† Barred in Maryland and
Massachusetts"), and Mr. Falusi's name, which was
listed second, corresponded to the bottom designation
("† Barred in Massachusetts"). At best, this
explanation renders the symbols ambiguous, which comports
with what the hearing judge found. At worst, it is
counter-intuitive, given that a designation with two symbols
could reasonably refer to the second-listed name rather than
the first. Clear and convincing evidence was shown in that
regard. We overrule Mr. Falusi's exception regarding the
ambiguity of the letterhead.
Falusi also argues that the hearing judge "incorrectly
made an inference inconsistent with the facts"
concerning the Firm's website. He contends that the
hearing judge considered, but then ignored, the sentence in
Mr. Falusi's description on the website that he was
barred only in Massachusetts. As a result, Mr. Falusi argues
that the hearing judge "unreasonably inferred" that
"[a] layperson may surmise that Respondent Falusi is a
Maryland attorney who concentrates on immigration as opposed
to an attorney whose practice is limited to immigration
matters." Mr. Falusi is correct that nothing on the
website, save for the mention of Mr. Lang's Maryland Bar
membership, referred to Maryland or Mr. Falusi's practice
there. The Firm's Maryland address did not appear on the
website, nor did the website directly state that Mr. Falusi
practiced law in Maryland.
and convincing evidence supports the hearing judge's
findings with respect to the website. The Firm was
established in and operated within Maryland; a lay person
could have easily searched the Firm's name and found that
it was located in Maryland; and the website failed to
disclaim that Mr. Falusi did not practice law in
Maryland. Given that Mr. Falusi's description stated that
he practiced law in areas other than immigration-namely,
criminal defense and domestic violence-a lay person may have
inferred that he could, and did, practice law in Maryland in
areas other than immigration. Accordingly, Mr. Falusi's
exception is overruled.
Regarding the PNC Bank Operating Account
Falusi takes exception to the hearing judge's finding
that client and third-party funds were deposited directly
into the Firm's Operating Account. He claims that no
details were provided about deposits and disbursements other
than those in the official bank statements. He argues that
"[t]he mere fact that a client made payment or that
certain fees were paid on behalf of a client from the
operating account does not suggest that the funds used for
the payment was [sic] client or third-party
funds." The hearing judge found that the transaction
summary, client summary, and monthly statements submitted
into evidence by Bar Counsel clearly and convincingly showed
that client funds and third-party funds were deposited,
disbursed, and commingled in the Operating Account. Notes in
the transaction and client summaries, which were prepared by
Bar Counsel's investigator, match the transactions found
in the monthly statements and provided the basis for that
finding. Mr. Falusi's exception is
Regarding Abby Daramola
Falusi excepts to the hearing judge's finding that
"[o]n Respondent Falusi's advice, Ms. Daramola
signed the settlement agreement and gave the agreement to
Respondent Falusi." Mr. Falusi argues that Ms.
Daramola's testimony before the hearing judge confirms
that she needed him merely to communicate with Mr. Jablon
rather than represent her interests. We give due regard,
however, to the hearing judge's evaluation of Ms.
Daramola's testimony, and we review the record for
competent material evidence that Mr. Falusi in fact
represented Ms. Daramola. We need look no further than Mr.
Falusi's deposition testimony:
I did draft the agreement after speaking with - - after
speaking with Mr. Jablon. And, you know, I related the
outcome with our discussion with Mr. Jablon, related that to
Ms. - - Ms. Daramola like look, you need to make this payment
or else it just, you know, you have no choice.
You can't get out of it. You got to - - you know, trying
to get - - you just have to make the first payment. And your
first payment is $1, 000. And she made that.
Mr. Falusi sent a letter to Mr. Jablon on Firm letterhead,
his signature read "O. Isaac Falusi, Esq.," and Mr.
Jablon addressed correspondence to him as "Isaac Falusi,
Esq." Even considering Mr. Falusi's strained
definition of "advice," we overrule his exception.
Regarding Justina Ikpim
Falusi asserts that the hearing judge failed to account for
"pertinent and material facts" regarding Ms. Ikpim.
Specifically, he claims that Ms. Ikpim, with whom Mr. Falusi
had a "familial relationship" (apparently Ms. Ikpim
was his father's girlfriend), came to him for a personal
favor rather than to obtain legal advice and representation.
The hearing judge considered Mr. Falusi's testimony on
the subject and decided that it did not bear on whether Mr.
Falusi provided legal representation to Ms. Ikpim. We find
nothing in the record to compel a contrary conclusion, so we
overrule Mr. Falusi's factual exceptions.
Regarding Dennis Bean
Falusi first excepts to the hearing judge's finding that
he drafted the Flat Fee Agreement that he and Mr. Bean
signed. According to Mr. Falusi, the Agreement was the
Firm's standard retainer agreement. At his deposition,
Mr. Falusi testified that he drafted the Agreement. Mr. Lang
also testified that Mr. Falusi drafted the Agreement. The
exception is overruled.
Mr. Falusi disputes that the hearing judge correctly
identified the "Attorneys" in the Agreement as
"Lang & Falusi, LLP, the firm and its members and
Associates, etc." The record contains clear and
convincing evidence contradicting Mr. Falusi's position.
Prior to signing the Agreement, Mr. Bean contacted Mr. Falusi
to discuss the case. The Agreement clearly states that the
"Attorneys" are "Lang & Falusi, LLP, the
firm and its members and Associates, etc.," and Mr.
Falusi confirmed this fact during his deposition. Mr. Falusi
also confirmed that the Agreement was made among him, Mr.
Bean, and Mr. Lang; that Mr. Bean retained the members of the
Firm; and that he was a member of the Firm.
to Mr. Bean's testimony, however, Mr. Falusi argues that
Mr. Bean knew that he was being represented only by Mr. Lang.
Mr. Bean acknowledged in his testimony that Mr. Lang was the
lead attorney handling his case, but he never stated that Mr.
Lang was his only attorney. In fact, Mr. Bean testified that
prior to signing the Agreement, he discussed case strategy
with both Respondents. When asked what he believed Mr. Lang
and Mr. Falusi would be doing for the $3, 500.00, Mr. Bean
stated that they would be defending the foreclosures they had
discussed at the meeting. When asked what he understood to be
Mr. Falusi's role in the representation, Mr. Bean
answered, "During our meeting he told me Mr. Lang would
be the lead but that, you know, he would be involved in the
case." Then, when asked whether he understood Mr. Falusi
to be his attorney, Mr. Bean responded that he believed Mr.
Falusi was one of his attorneys and that he was a client of
both Mr. Lang and Mr. Falusi. Mr. Falusi exchanged numerous
emails with Mr. Bean concerning case strategy and progress.
Mr. Falusi was also the only attorney to sign the Agreement;
Mr. Lang did not sign it. Mr. Falusi's exception is
overruled because clear and convincing evidence supports the
hearing judge's findings as to these facts.
Falusi also excepts to the hearing judge's finding that
neither Mr. Lang nor Mr. Falusi explained to Mr. Bean the
risks associated with the flat fee clause in the Agreement.
Mr. Bean testified that Respondents "just said what
they'd do for the fee is represent me, but not what they
would do with the fee." Even though Mr. Bean initialed
under the flat fee clause, Mr. Falusi could not affirmatively
state whether he informed Mr. Bean of the risks, and Mr. Lang
testified that there were no risks to disclose. Mr.
Falusi's exception is overruled.
Lang's Factual Exceptions
Lang excepts to alleged "adverse inferences" that
the hearing judge drew from Bar Counsel when finding
violations of the MLRPC, though he does not identify which
violations resulted from these inferences. While we at times
permit a hearing judge to draw adverse inferences,
Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Nwadike, 416 Md.
180, 197-98 (2010), we find that-save for the exceptions of
Mr. Falusi that we sustain-the hearing judge's findings
of fact and conclusions of law were supported by clear and
convincing evidence. We therefore overrule this exception.
same reasons we overruled Mr. Falusi's exceptions as to
the findings of fact concerning the Firm's letterhead, we
overrule Mr. Lang's exception that any ambiguities in the
letterhead do not rise to a violation of the MLRPC by clear
and convincing evidence.
begin our discussion with MLRPC 5.5, as a violation of this
Rule provides, in part, the foundation for other MLRPC
5.5: Unauthorized Practice of Law; Multijurisdictional
Practice of Law
5.5 provides, in part:
(a) A lawyer shall not practice law in a jurisdiction in
violation of the regulation of the legal profession in that
jurisdiction, or assist another in doing so.
(b) A lawyer who is not admitted to practice in this
jurisdiction shall not:
(1) except as authorized by these Rules or other law,
establish an office or other systematic and continuous
presence in this jurisdiction for the practice of law; or
(2) hold out to the public or otherwise represent that the
lawyer is admitted to practice law ...