Argued: November 2, 2018
Circuit Court for Montgomery County Case Nos. 32435-M &
Barbera, C.J., Greene McDonald Watts Hotten Getty Adkins,
Sally D., (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.
the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, acting through
Bar Counsel, filed in this Court two Petitions for
Disciplinary or Remedial Action against Respondent, Christal
Elizabeth Edwards, regarding six separate complaints filed
against her by former clients and a stenographer formerly
employed by Respondent. Bar Counsel moved to consolidate the
two petitions and we granted that motion. The petitions
allege violations of the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of
Professional Conduct ("MLRPC") 1.1 (Competence), 1.2
(Scope of Representation), 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4
(Communication), 1.5 (Fees), 1.15 (Safekeeping Property),
1.16 (Declining or Terminating Representation), 3.3(a)
(Candor Toward the Tribunal), 3.4(c) (Fairness to Opposing
Party and Counsel), 5.5(a) (Unauthorized Practice of Law;
Multijurisdictional Practice of Law), 7.1(a) (Communications
Concerning a Lawyer's Services), 8.1(b) (Bar Admission
and Disciplinary Matters), and 8.4(a), (c), and (d)
29, 2016, this Court transmitted this matter to the Circuit
Court for Montgomery County and designated the Honorable
Nelson W. Rupp, Jr., ("the hearing judge") to
conduct an evidentiary hearing and make findings of fact and
conclusions of law. The hearing took place on February 20-23,
2018, and April 16, 2018. At the hearing, the judge heard
testimony from Respondent and ten witnesses (seven for
Petitioner and three for Respondent). The hearing judge
precluded Respondent from introducing evidence regarding her
record-keeping for two of her clients, as Respondent had
failed to satisfy Bar Counsel's discovery request for
those documents prior to the hearing.
adopt in large part the hearing judge's proposed findings
of fact and conclusions of law. Based on the rule violations
that Respondent committed, as well as the aggravating and
mitigating factors we have identified, we disbar Respondent.
The Hearing Judge's Findings of Fact
summarize here the hearing judge's findings of fact,
which are supported by clear and convincing evidence.
was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 2007 and the United
States District Court for the District of Maryland in 2009.
She was subsequently admitted to the United States District
Court for the District of Columbia in 2010 and the District
of Columbia Bar in 2013. At all relevant times, Respondent
maintained an office at 8403 Colesville Road, Suite 1100,
Silver Spring, Maryland ("Colesville Road Office").
Respondent listed the Colesville Road Office with the Client
Protection Fund of the Bar of Maryland. Respondent also
currently maintains an office at 9701 Apollo Drive, Suite
301, Largo, Maryland ("Apollo Drive Office").
suffers from ulcerative colitis, which is a "chronic
ulceration in the large intestine, characterized by painful
abdominal cramps and profuse diarrhea containing pus, blood,
and mucus." Ulcerative Colitis, Dictionary.com
[https://perma.cc/DB3A-NCUB]. Respondent was diagnosed in
1999 and testified that although the disease can be
manageable, she occasionally experienced what she called
"flare ups." These "flare ups" caused
Respondent to be hospitalized six times between 2015-2016:
(1) March 12-31, 2015; (2) August 27-30, 2015; (3) September
13-20, 2015; (4) October 11-16, 2015; (5) December 27-30,
2015; and (6) January 20-February 4, 2016. The hearing judge
credited Respondent's claim that she received care
through doctor visits and "two to three-hour
'infusion appointments' from October 6, 2011 through
May 19, 2016."
of Rochell Richardson
January 2010, Rochell Richardson entered into a contract with
Capitol Improvement Contractors, Inc. ("Capitol")
to rehabilitate her family home. The contract was financed
through a City of Baltimore ("City")
"'203k' home rehabilitation program" and
required disputes under the contract to be resolved through
arbitration "under the auspices of the Better Business
months later, after demolishing "substantial portions of
the home," and causing the water in Ms. Richardson's
home to run continuously, Capitol stopped working due to,
what it called, "unforeseen conditions." As a
result, Ms. Richardson filed a pro se complaint
against Capitol with the Maryland Department of Labor,
Licensing and Regulation ("DLLR"). The complaint
alleged that Capitol had left Ms. Richardson's home
unsafe and in a state of disrepair. Her complaint was sent to
the Better Business Bureau per the arbitration clause of the
February 2, 2011, the Environmental Control Board of
Baltimore City issued an Environmental Citation to Ms.
Richardson due to the condition of her home. Later that same
month, the City sent Ms. Richardson an invoice for a
delinquent water bill totaling $2, 106.59.
Richardson's niece, Alisa Boddie, who acted as an
intermediary throughout this matter, introduced Ms.
Richardson to Respondent. In early October 2011, Ms.
Richardson retained Respondent on a contingent fee basis to
represent her in an "Arbitration and Civil Suit
involving Capitol Improvement Contractors, LLC and Baltimore
December 2011, the City declared Ms. Richardson's home
uninhabitable. Ms. Richardson was forced to move out later
March 4, 2012, Respondent sent a "Demand Letter for
Arbitration Hearing" to the Office of Rehabilitation. On
March 23, 2012, Respondent sent a similar demand letter to
the Better Business Bureau. No hearing was scheduled and
nothing in the record suggests that Respondent followed up on
following month, the Baltimore City Bureau of Revenue
Collections sent a "Tax Sale Notice" to Ms.
Richardson. At that point, Ms. Richardson learned that the
City had placed a tax lien on her home because of the
delinquent water bill. A tax sale was scheduled to occur on
May 21, 2012.
day of the tax sale, Respondent wrote to the Bureau of
Revenue Collections stating that the water bill was part of a
lawsuit. Two days later, Capitol filed a breach of
contract action against Ms. Richardson.
then assured Ms. Richardson that arbitration was unnecessary
and that she would file a lawsuit against Capitol.
Respondent, however, never sent a letter of representation or
a demand letter to Capitol. Nor did Respondent file a lawsuit
on Ms. Richardson's behalf, correspond with Capitol, or
enter her appearance in Capitol's lawsuit against Ms.
November 2014, Respondent advised Ms. Richardson that she was
working on Ms. Richardson's case and that after the
holidays, her case would be Respondent's "first
priority." The hearing judge found that Respondent
misled Ms. Richardson (and Ms. Boddie) by communicating that
she would continue to work on Ms. Richardson's case.
6, 2015, after receiving no communications from Respondent
for over six months, Ms. Boddie requested, on Ms.
Richardson's behalf, that Respondent call her to discuss
the case. Respondent informed Ms. Boddie and Ms. Richardson,
for the first time, that she had been in the hospital and
"out sick right after the holidays and just returned to
work full time about two weeks ago." The hearing judge
found that between January and July 2015, Respondent took no
action to protect the interests of Ms. Richardson.
Respondent's medical records reflect a hospitalization
from mid to late March, but nothing "right after the
holidays" or "about two weeks" before July 6,
25, 2015, Respondent still had not taken any action in Ms.
Richardson's case, prompting Ms. Richardson to file a
complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission. In over
three years, Respondent's representation of Ms.
Richardson consisted of nothing more than the three letters
sent to the Baltimore City Office of Rehabilitation, the
Better Business Bureau, and the Baltimore City Bureau of
of Brenda Dyer
November 2012, Brenda Dyer was injured during a "Black
Friday" event at a Walmart in Collierville, Tennessee. A
group of customers, while rushing a display, knocked Ms. Dyer
over and trampled her. Ms. Dyer suffered injuries to her leg
and back. Respondent's sister, who worked with Ms. Dyer,
referred Ms. Dyer to Respondent.
December 12, 2012, Ms. Dyer hired Respondent on a contingent
fee basis. Respondent told Ms. Dyer that they would wait to
file a lawsuit until Ms. Dyer's medical treatment was
complete and her doctors "cleared" her.
December 23, 2012, Ms. Dyer sent Respondent the following
The [doctor] has set me up for [an] MRI on January 2nd for my
back and knee. My back ha[s] degenerative disc disease at L5
Sl. I thought you should know that info. Have you talked to
Walmart at all [o]r are you waiting for me to get their
determination [o]f fault letter?
did not respond.
days later, Ms. Dyer again emailed Respondent, stating:
Please call me when you are available so that we can meet up
and discuss the case. I have not heard anything from them in
reference to their decision about who was at fault yet.
did not respond.
later, Ms. Dyer emailed Respondent yet again, stating, in
My parents suggested I send you an email because you are
probably busy. I had left you a message a couple weeks ago
letting you know that the claims agent from Walmart had
attempted to call me and I did not answer the call because
you had stated you would do the talking with them instead of
me. I was wondering if you were able to get ahold of them? I
am just curious because the MRI bill will be coming in soon
and I truthfully do not have the money to pay for it because
it went towards my deductible. I already owe my
doctor[']s office additional monies because they have
charged additional for me when they had drained my knee and
they were charging me incorrectly for the therapy sessions.
Please let me know what I should do or if Walmart has agreed
that it was their fault.
same day, Respondent replied:
Yes, you are correct in not speaking with Walmart. I left a
message and sent my letter of representation to them. I will
give them a call on Monday and follow up with you then.
Respondent sent this email, she in fact had not left a
message, sent a letter of representation, or had any
correspondence with Walmart whatsoever. The hearing judge
found this to be a knowing and intentional misrepresentation.
after Respondent's email, Ms. Dyer emailed Respondent,
asking: "Did you already talk to the insurance
guy?" Respondent did not respond.
days later, Ms. Dyer emailed Respondent the following:
I have to go in for surgery on Monday for my knee, there is a
meniscus tear. Have you heard anything from Walmart[?] You
had stated previously you would be calling me back but I have
not heard anything. I have given it a couple weeks and I have
called and left you a message. Please let me know what is
did not respond.
month later, Ms. Dyer emailed Respondent asking for an update
on her case. Respondent did not respond.
Eleven days later, Ms. Dyer emailed Respondent yet again,
this time stating:
I was just wondering if you had heard anything from Walmart
yet. It has been over 4 months since it occurred so they have
to have said something by now. I am worried if we wait too
long the tape will [disappear] from that night.
April 17, 2013, Respondent sent a letter to Walmart's
representative, Claims Management, Inc., stating, in
This letter is to advise that I am the legal representative
for [Brenda Dyer] as the result of injuries sustained during
an incident while shopping on "Black Friday" at a
Wal-Mart store in Collierville, TN.
It is my understanding that [Ms. Dyer] began working with
your office over three months ago. Please feel free to
contact me at the above address and telephone number for any
Dyer never received a copy of that letter.
September and October 2013, Ms. Dyer sent Respondent at least
four text messages relating to her case. On October 4, 2013,
having not received a response, Ms. Dyer emailed Respondent
I have sent you text messages on several different occasions.
I have sent an email to the [firm's] general email
address. I just left a message at the office today. I am
getting concerned that I have not heard back from you. My
surgery is almost 2 weeks away. Have you heard anything? I am
concerned that I have not heard from you and wonder if
everything is ok on your end or if I need to find another
attorney. Please let me know so I will know how to proceed.
November 22, 2013, the statute of limitations for Ms.
Dyer's claim in Tennessee expired with no suit having
April 2014, approximately five months after the statute of
limitations had run, Respondent informed Ms. Dyer, for the
first time, that Walmart denied liability for her injuries.
Respondent then told Ms. Dyer that she would pursue a lawsuit
against Walmart in Arkansas.
23, 2014, Ms. Dyer sent a text message to Respondent asking
whether she had filed the complaint or retrieved the
surveillance footage. Respondent did not respond.
days later, Ms. Dyer sent another text message to Respondent,
asking, "Is the lawyer in Arkansas going to file?"
Respondent replied, "Yes." The hearing judge found
that this was a knowing and intentional misrepresentation
because there was no evidence that Respondent had "made
any arrangements to file a claim . . . in either Tennessee or
5, 2014, Ms. Dyer again sent Respondent a text message
following up on her questions from May 23, 2014. Respondent
did not respond. On June 11, 2014, Ms. Dyer sent a text
message to Respondent terminating Respondent's
never filed a lawsuit or coordinated with local counsel to
have a lawsuit filed in either Tennessee or Arkansas. On
August 14, 2015, Ms. Dyer filed a complaint with the Attorney
Invoices-Marguerite D. Keller
2013, Respondent hired Marguerite Keller as a stenographer in
connection with her representation of a client. Respondent
failed to pay three separate invoices totaling more than $1,
400. On September 2, 2014, Ms. Keller filed a complaint with
the Attorney Grievance Commission.
of LaTasha Houston Initial Work
March 30, 2014, LaTasha Houston, who sought to modify a child
support order, executed a retainer agreement with Respondent.
The agreement called for a $1, 000 retainer and stated that
work would be billed at an hourly rate of $275.00. The
following day, Respondent deposited Ms. Houston's $1, 000
retainer into her attorney trust account.
the father of Ms. Houston's child, Mr. Wilson, moved to
modify the child support order, a hearing was set for June
10, 2014. Respondent informed Ms. Houston that she would
raise Ms. Houston's motion to modify the child support
order at the hearing.
April 28, 2014, Respondent prepared a subpoena for Mr.
Wilson's employer, the U.S. Marshals Service, to obtain
information regarding his earnings and leave. In preparing
the subpoena, Respondent listed the return date as May 1,
2014, i.e., three days later. Twelve days after the
subpoena's listed return date, Respondent served the
subpoena on the Marshals Service via facsimile.
Marshals Service moved to quash the subpoena, arguing, among
other things, that the subpoena was served after its return
date. Respondent did not respond to the motion to quash, but
instead, told Ms. Houston that they would find a different
way of getting Mr. Wilson's financial information.
attended the June hearing without having filed an opposition
to Mr. Wilson's motion to modify the child support order.
At that time, Respondent told the court and Mr. Wilson that a
motion to modify the child support was forthcoming.
the hearing and in response to Ms. Houston's trepidation
about the case, Respondent reassured her that she would draft
a motion to modify the child support order within a few days.
Ms. Houston then asked if Respondent would file a motion to
recuse the judge. Respondent agreed to do so.
June and July 2014, Ms. Houston sent Respondent multiple
emails requesting status updates on the two motions Ms.
Houston had requested be filed by Respondent. When Respondent
replied, she assured Ms. Houston that the motions were going
to be served along with discovery requests.
14, 2014, Respondent propounded interrogatories on Mr.
Wilson. When Mr. Wilson did not respond, Respondent failed to
compel discovery or otherwise obtain the information sought.
days later, Ms. Houston requested to see a document relating
to the motion to quash, which the U.S. Marshals Service had
filed previously. Ms. Houston also reiterated her concern
about the filing of the motion to modify child support and
the motion to recuse, stating that Respondent was "three
business days behind [the agreed upon] scheduled date."
reassured Ms. Houston that she would finish the motions.
Respondent did not mention the Marshals Service's motion
to quash, nor did she provide a copy of the motion to Ms.
Houston, as she had requested.
continued to ignore Ms. Houston and her requests for
documents and updates on her case. Consequently, on July 14,
2014, Ms. Houston told Respondent that if the motions were
not filed by July 18, 2014, Ms. Houston would be requesting a
full refund. Respondent did not respond.
August 5, 2014, Ms. Houston wrote to Respondent to terminate
her representation, request her client file, and demand a
full refund of the retainer fee. Roughly two months later,
Respondent sent a letter to Ms. Houston (and apparently all
her clients), stating:
I am writing this letter to inform you of my very unforeseen
and unfortunate situation. For the past six months I have
been dealing with a chronic disease and it has caused me to
be extremely ill for the past two months. As a result, I have
been unable to fulfill my obligations to you, as my client
and the matters of your case. I sincerely apologize. However,
by the grace of God, I am currently doing well and back in
the office fulltime.
It is my plan to personally contact you during this week, the
week of September 29, 2014, to discuss your case and how you
want me to proceed. Again, I sincerely apologize for any
delay in your matter.
next day, Ms. Houston replied to Respondent's letter. In
it, she again informed Respondent that she was discharging
her and wanted her client file and a full refund. Respondent
agreed to send the requested refund and informed Ms. Houston
that she had asked to be removed from the case. Ms. Houston
wished Respondent well and asked when she could expect her
file and refund. Respondent did not respond. The hearing
judge found that Respondent also "never filed a motion
or praecipe to withdraw her appearance from the matter."
October 8, 2014, Ms. Houston emailed Respondent, stating:
[I]t has been 7 days since our last communication where you
acknowledge[d] receipt of my letter and confirmed that you
were sending my refund. If it has not been done already,
being that a week has pas[sed], please send my refund and a
copy of my case by 10/15/2014.
I pray all is well with your health.
did not respond.
the end of October 2014, Ms. Houston filed a lawsuit against
Respondent in the District Court of Maryland seeking $1, 000
about October 29, 2014, Respondent called Ms. Houston to
inform her that Respondent would not be providing a refund.
Ms. Houston once again asked for her refund and her client
file. Ms. Houston served Respondent with the District Court
complaint and a Writ of Summons on October 31, 2014.
January 23, 2015, Respondent filed a notice of intention to
defend. In the notice, Respondent argued that she did not owe
Ms. Houston any money because the retainer fee was earned in
full. Respondent then filed a motion to dismiss, or in the
alterative, for summary judgment. The motion claimed, among
other things, that Respondent was in "constant
communication with [Ms. Houston]," that Respondent
became "gravely ill for several months" after being
"assigned" the case, that Ms. Houston was aware of
Respondent's illness, and that the "modification
hearing did not take place because [Ms.] Houston terminated
the services of the Edwards Legal Group." The hearing
judge found that Respondent "knowingly and intentionally
misrepresented . . . that she was 'in constant
communication' with Ms. Houston."
six months after Ms. Houston's first request, Respondent
provided Ms. Houston with her client file. The client file
did not include either a motion for modification of the child
support order or a motion to recuse the judge, both of which
Ms. Houston had requested be done. The District Court denied
Respondent's motion to dismiss or for summary judgment
and later ruled in Ms. Houston's favor awarding her $1,
000 plus costs.
as the record reflects, Respondent never returned the
retainer fee to Ms. Houston. Respondent never provided an
invoice to Ms. Houston during her representation.
of Respondent's motion to dismiss Ms. Houston's
complaint against her in the District Court, Respondent
attached an invoice that she had generated. In comparing the
invoice with Respondent's bank records, the hearing judge
found that Respondent's invoice was "false."
Although Respondent's invoice demonstrated that
Respondent withdrew Ms. Houston's $1, 000 retainer fee on
June 30, 2014, bank records reveal that Respondent had in
fact disbursed all of Ms. Houston's $1, 000 payment by
April 14, 2014. Additionally, the hearing judge found that
the invoice listed work Respondent had allegedly done on Ms.
Houston's motion to modify the child support order and
the motion for recusal, but that Ms. Houston's client
file did not include either motion.
hearing judge then seemingly found that even if he
were to credit the work Respondent listed in her invoice,
Respondent disbursed the retainer fee before having earned it
in full. Respondent billed at a rate of $275.00 per hour and
claims to have performed 3.5 hours of work between March 30,
2014 and May 1, 2014. Because Respondent was only entitled to
$962.50 of the $1, 000 retainer fee when she made her
withdrawal on April 14, 2014, the hearing judge found that
Respondent had disbursed the retainer fee before it was
misled Ms. Houston to believe that she was working on Ms.
Houston's behalf and, further, that Respondent sought
removal from the case. Lastly, Respondent never explained to
Ms. Houston that before she could file a motion for
modification of child support, Respondent needed a subpoena
of Mr. Wilson's financial information or answers to
short, Ms. Houston retained Respondent to file a motion for
modification of child support and a motion for recusal.
Respondent did neither.
of Angela Spencer
early 2012, Angela Spencer entered into a contract with
Ardekani & Associates ("Ardekani") to renovate
her kitchen. After the project was completed, Ms. Spencer
withheld full payment because she was dissatisfied with
September 2012, Ardekani filed a breach of contract action in
the District Court of Maryland against Ms. Spencer. Ms.
Spencer moved to dismiss that action. In March 2013, the
District Court dismissed the contractor's complaint and
informed Ms. Spencer that she could proceed with a
counterclaim against Ardekani. Following the disposition of
Ardekani's subsequent appeal, the District Court set
trial for November 21, 2014.
October 9, 2014, Ms. Spencer executed Respondent's
retainer agreement and paid half of the $1, 500 retainer. The
agreement provided that Respondent would represent Ms.
Spencer in her "Counterclaim for damages in civil case
number 0502-0024756-2012 in Prince George's County,
Maryland." The agreement also provided that Respondent
would charge $325 per hour.
before the trial, Respondent entered her appearance and moved
for a continuance. The court granted the motion and postponed
the trial until January 27, 2015.
months before trial, Ms. Spencer emailed Respondent to ask
whether Respondent had contacted Mr. LaValle, Ms.
Spencer's expert. Respondent did not respond.
later, on January 4, 2015, Ms. Spencer emailed Respondent to
schedule a phone call. Respondent replied the following day,
stating "I am just getting back in town from the
holidays and want to review your case file at the courthouse
again. Also, I am going to reach out to Ardekani this week as
well. Let's touch base on Thursday [, January 8,
January 13 and 16, 2015, Ms. Spencer asked again whether
Respondent was in contact with Mr. LaValle. Respondent did
January 26, 2015, the day before trial, Respondent filed an
"Application to Inspect Public Records." The court
subsequently postponed the matter until April 8, 2015.
February 16, 2015, Ms. Spencer emailed Respondent requesting
an update on her case. Respondent did not respond.
March 2, 2015, Ms. Spencer reiterated her request for an
update. Respondent did not respond.
March 19, 2015, Ardekani, through its counsel, propounded
interrogatories on Ms. Spencer. Ms. Spencer requested that
Respondent send her the interrogatories and asked if
everything was ready for trial. Respondent did not respond.
did not inform Ms. Spencer or Ardekani that she was
hospitalized between March 12 and 31, 2015. On April 3, 2015,
Respondent, without informing Ms. Spencer, filed another
motion for a continuance because Respondent was
"currently hospitalized." The court granted the
motion and rescheduled trial for July 20, 2015.
April 23, 2015, Ms. Spencer emailed Respondent to ask if
there was a new trial date and to request copies of all
filings made by either Ardekani or Respondent. Respondent did
months later, Ardekani filed a "Consent Motion for
Continuance" due to a scheduling conflict. As a result,
the court rescheduled the trial for September 11, 2015.
Ardekani also informed Respondent that it would be forced to
move for sanctions based on Respondent's failure to
30, 2015, Respondent emailed Ms. Spencer and told her that
Ardekani had sent discovery requests while Respondent was in
the hospital. Respondent also told Ms. Spencer to answer the
interrogatories and that Respondent would review them.
Respondent did not mention that Ardekani intended to file a
motion for sanctions.
Spencer sent the completed interrogatories to Respondent on
July 8, 2015. Ms. Spencer also provided suggestions to
Respondent that Ms. Spencer felt would be appropriate for
their interrogatories to Ardekani. It was at this time that
Ms. Spencer expressed an interest in settling the case.
Respondent, however, never engaged Ardekani in settlement
negotiations or sent the interrogatories.
21, 2015, Ms. Spencer asked about the status of her case,
whether the interrogatories had been sent to Ardekani, and if
Respondent had drafted anything for ...