Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Thompson

Court of Appeals of Maryland

December 14, 2018

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND
v.
YOLANDA MASSAABIOSEH THOMPSON

          Argued: October 3, 2018

          Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County Case No. C-02-CV-17-003837

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

          OPINION

          Hotten, J.

         On December 20, 2017, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, acting through Bar Counsel ("Petitioner"), filed a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action against Yolanda Massaabioseh Thompson ("Respondent"). The misconduct stemmed from Respondent's representation of a former client, Ms. Norma Jean Bess. Specifically, Petitioner alleged that Respondent failed to represent Ms. Bess competently and diligently, failed to communicate with Ms. Bess regarding the status of her matter, failed to refund unearned fees in Ms. Bess's matter, failed to safeguard client funds, abandoned Ms. Bess's matter, practiced in a jurisdiction where she was not authorized to practice law, made a knowingly false statement of material fact, and failed to respond to lawful demands for information during Petitioner's investigation. Based on the misconduct, Petitioner alleged violations of Maryland Attorneys' Rules of Professional Conduct ("MARPC") 19-301.1 (Competence), 19-301.3 (Diligence), 19-301.4 (Communication), 19-301.5(a) (Fees), 19-301.15(a), (b), (c), and (d) (Safekeeping Property), 19-301.16(d) (Declining or Terminating Representation), 19-305.5(b) (Unauthorized Practice of Law), 19-308.1(a) and (b) (Disciplinary Matters), and 19-308.4(a), (c), and (d) (Misconduct). [1]

         On December 21, 2017, this Court transferred the matter to Judge Stacy Wiederle McCormack ("the hearing judge") of the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, to conduct an evidentiary hearing ("the hearing"). On January 11, 2018, Respondent was served with original process, Petitioner's Interrogatories, Petitioner's Request for Production of Documents, and Petitioner's Request for Admission of Facts and Genuineness of Documents. On February 12, 2018, no answer having been filed, Petitioner filed a Motion for Order of Default. Respondent failed to respond. On February 20, 2018, the circuit court entered an Order of Default and scheduled the matter for a hearing on March 9, 2018. Respondent did not move to vacate the Order of Default and failed to respond to Petitioner's discovery. Pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-424(b), [2]Petitioner's Requests for Admission were deemed admitted. Respondent failed to appear for the hearing scheduled on March 9.

         THE HEARING JUDGE'S FINDINGS OF FACT

         We summarize the hearing judge's findings of fact. Respondent was admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia on February 6, 2012 and the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on November 7, 2016. Respondent is not a member of the Bar of Maryland, nor a member of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. Respondent maintained an office for the practice of law in Montgomery County, Maryland. Respondent maintained a mail drop address at 13842 Outlet Drive, #A161, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904 and resided at 3407 Hampton Hollow Drive, #G, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904. Respondent registered her home address with the District of Columbia Bar. The hearing judge found that Respondent maintained a systematic and continuous legal practice at 13842 Outlet Drive, #A161 and 3407 Hampton Hollow Drive, #G in Maryland from March 28, 2014 through the present.

         On August 10, 2016, Respondent caused an overdraft on her attorney trust account (ending 3432) at TD Bank located in Silver Spring, Maryland in the amount of $116.32. On October 3, 2016, Respondent caused another overdraft on her attorney trust account in the amount of $63.49.

         On November 23, 2016, Petitioner wrote to Respondent and requested that Respondent provide copies of her client ledgers, deposit slips, cancelled checks, and monthly bank statements. The requested information and documentation was to be provided within ten days, but Respondent failed to respond.

         On January 6, 2017, Petitioner wrote to Respondent again, enclosed a copy of the November 23, 2016 letter, and requested a response upon receipt. Respondent failed to respond.

         On March 7, 2017, Petitioner wrote to Respondent a third time and enclosed copies of the previous correspondence. Petitioner advised Respondent that the matter had been docketed for further investigation and requested a response within ten days. Respondent failed to respond.

         On April 26, 2017, having received no response, Petitioner issued a subpoena directed to TD Bank for account records held in the name of the Law Office of Yolanda M. Thompson and Respondent for the period of May 1, 2016 through the date of the subpoena.

         On May 5, 2017, Jason P. Bogue, investigator for the Attorney Grievance Commission, traveled to Respondent's home address. Respondent's mother answered the door and indicated that Respondent was not home. Mr. Bogue provided Respondent's mother with his business card and requested that she ask Respondent to contact him. That same day, Respondent called Mr. Bogue and advised that she had closed her attorney trust account in October 2016. She also stated that she exclusively handled bankruptcy matters and therefore, did not have use for an attorney trust account. The hearing judge found that "Respondent's statement, that she exclusively handled bankruptcy matters, was knowingly and intentionally false." Respondent has not represented clients in bankruptcy matters, though she has represented clients in two immigration matters with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Respondent provided her address at 13842 Outlet Drive in each of those filings. The hearing judge found that Respondent's false statement to Petitioner was material, as it was made in an effort to minimize Petitioner's concerns about the overdraft of Respondent's attorney trust account and the unauthorized practice of law in Maryland.

         During Respondent's May 5 telephone call with Mr. Bogue, Respondent confirmed that she had received Petitioner's letters dated November 23, 2016, January 6, 2017, and March 7, 2017. Respondent indicated that she would respond to Petitioner in writing that day, but failed to do so.

         On May 9, 2017, Mr. Bogue served Respondent with a copy of the subpoena directed to TD Bank and copies of Petitioner's previous correspondence. At that time, Respondent confirmed that the address at 3407 Hampton Hollow Drive, Silver Spring, Maryland was correct. Respondent further advised Mr. Bogue that she would be "formulating" a response to the letters that day. Respondent failed to respond.

         On May 16, 2017, Petitioner wrote to Respondent at her home address and the address at 13842 Outlet Drive. Petitioner again requested Respondent's written response to its prior letters and provided Respondent seven days to respond. Respondent failed to respond to this letter or any of Petitioner's prior requests for information.

         On May 26, 2017, Petitioner received documents from TD Bank in response to the subpoena. Charles E. Miller, IV, an investigator for the Attorney Grievance Commission, performed an analysis of the account records.

         Respondent's Bank Account Transactions

         On March 28, 2014, Respondent opened an attorney trust account with TD Bank ending in 3432 in the name of the Law Office of Yolanda M. Thompson. She provided a legal address of Outlet Drive, #A161, Silver Spring, MD 20904. Respondent opened a personal account with TD Bank, account number ending 4270, on February 24, 2016. Respondent provided a mailing address of 3407 Hampton Hollow Drive, Apt. G, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904 for the personal account.

         From May 2016 to October 2016, Respondent received prepaid legal fees and other funds from clients and third persons. The hearing judge found that Respondent failed to safekeep those funds until the fees were earned or expenses incurred. On May 19, 2016, Respondent deposited a check from clients Lester Mack and Sarankay Mack in the amount of $1, 000 into her attorney trust account. On June 15, 2016, Respondent deposited a check from client Norma Jean Bess in the amount of $200.00 with memo "legal services."[3]

         Additionally, Respondent deposited personal funds into her trust account, including several deposits from "Synergy LE" totaling $4, 462.47, two deposits from "System One" totaling $1, 180.86, and numerous deposits from "ARTECH" totaling $7, 563.09.

         On October 3, 2016, Respondent caused a negative balance in her attorney trust account in the amount of -$63.49 following a disbursement of cash in the amount of $80.00. On October 5, 2016, Respondent made a cash deposit of personal funds in the amount of $100 into her attorney trust account.

         On October 24, 2016, Respondent closed her attorney trust account, withdrew all remaining funds in the account in the amount of $1, 585.96, including interest in the amount of $ 0.46, to which she was not entitled. On October 25, 2016, Respondent closed her personal account (ending 4270).

         The hearing judge found that Respondent failed to segregate the funds of clients and third persons in her possession from her own personal funds. The hearing judge also found that Respondent used the funds of clients and third persons for her own use and benefit, regularly and improperly withdrawing funds through cash disbursements and personal purchases. From May 2016 to October 2016, Respondent made approximately seventy-five cash disbursements from her attorney trust account. Respondent also made several other disbursements from her attorney trust account including payments to Verizon and life insurance premium payments.

         On February 16, 2017, Respondent opened a new personal account with TD Bank, account number ending 6871, and included as a mailing address for that account 3407 Hampton Hollow Drive, Apt. G, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904. From February through April 2017, Respondent deposited multiple checks from one or more clients or third parties directly into that personal account including, but not limited to the following: (i) a check from TIAA in the amount of $2, 300 on February 16, 2017; (ii) a check from Hanna Rachel Davies[4] in the amount of $300 on February 25, 2017; and (iii) a check from client Victorine Enterprise LLC[5] in the amount of $300 with memo "Fees [illegible]" on March 28.

         Representation of Norma Jean Bates

          Petitioner conducted additional investigation of the payment in the amount of $200 from client Norma Jean Bess to Respondent. Ms. Bess, a District of Columbia resident, retained Respondent to draft two letters in connection with a family matter for $100 per letter. Though Ms. Bess paid Respondent an advance fee of $200, Respondent only drafted one of the two letters. On June 15, 2016, Respondent deposited Ms. Bess's check into her attorney trust account and immediately withdrew $20 in cash. Respondent made numerous other cash withdrawals until Respondent's bank account reached a balance of $12.34 at the end of June 2016. Ms. Bess did not authorize Respondent to withdraw the advance fee of $200 prior to earning the fee in full. Ms. Bess called Respondent multiple times regarding the status of a refund for the second letter. Respondent failed to respond to the calls and failed to refund the amount owed to Ms. Bess. At the time that Respondent represented Ms. Bess, Respondent advised her client that she practiced from her home in Maryland.

         THE HEARING JUDGE'S CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         Based on the aforementioned findings of fact, the hearing judge concluded that the evidence concerning Respondent's representation of Ms. Bess established violations of MARPC 19-301.1 (Competence), 19-301.3 (Diligence), 19-301.4 (Communication), 19-301.5(a) (Fees), 19-301.15(a), (b), (c), and (d) (Safekeeping Property), 19-301.16(d) (Declining or Terminating Representation), 19-305.5(b) (Unauthorized Practice of Law), 19-308.1(a) and (b) (Disciplinary Matters), and 19-308.4(a), (c), and (d) (Misconduct). The following are summaries of the relevant MARPC and the hearing judge's reasoning for concluding Respondent violated each part.

          Rule 19-301.1 Competence (1.1)

An attorney shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.

         Respondent failed to provide competent representation to her client, Norma Jean Bess. In Attorney Grievance Commission v. Brown, 426 Md. 298, 319, 44 A.3d 344, 357 (2012), this Court held that an attorney violates Rule 19-301.1 when the attorney fails to act in a timely manner that results in harm to clients.

         Ms. Bess asked Respondent to draft two letters for a family matter for $100 per letter. Respondent drafted only one of the two letters for which Respondent was compensated. Respondent did not respond to Ms. Bess's inquiries regarding the status of the second letter, resulting in a lack of competent representation.

         Rule 19-301.3 Diligence (1.3)

An attorney shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.

         Respondent failed to keep Ms. Bess informed about the status of her second letter, constituting a lack of reasonable diligence and promptness. Failing to keep a client informed as to the status of the case and failing to respond to the client's inquiries violates Rule 19-301.3. See Attorney Grievance Commission v. Park, 427 Md. 180, 192, 46 A.3d 1153, 1160 (2012) (holding that "Respondent's failure to keep [clients] informed as to the status of [their immigration] applications and [Respondent's] failure to respond to the [clients'] inquiries both violate[d] [MARPC 19-301.3].").

          Rule 19-301.4 Communication (1.4)

(a)An attorney shall:
(1)promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client's informed consent, as defined in Rule 19-301.0(f) (1.0), is required by these Rules;
(2)keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;
(3)promptly comply with reasonable requests for information; and
(4)consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the attorney's conduct when the attorney knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Maryland ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.