Argued: October 3, 2018
Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County Case No.
Barbera, C.J., Greene, [*] Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten,
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)
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), Petitioner's Requests for
Admission were deemed admitted. Respondent failed to appear
for the hearing scheduled on March 9.
HEARING JUDGE'S FINDINGS OF FACT
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bank Account Transactions
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 in the amount of
$300 on February 25, 2017; and (iii) a check from client
Victorine Enterprise LLC in the amount of $300 with memo
"Fees [illegible]" on March 28.
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
HEARING JUDGE'S CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
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.
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
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.
19-301.3 Diligence (1.3)
An attorney shall act with reasonable diligence and
promptness in representing a client.
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
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
(2)keep the client reasonably informed about the status of
(3)promptly comply with reasonable requests for information;
(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