Argued: November 5, 2018
Circuit Court for Montgomery County Case No. 433322-V
Barbera, C.J. Greene, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, Adkins,
Sally D., (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.
attorney discipline case involves conduct of an out-of-state
attorney during her representation of a Maryland resident in
a toxic mold case. While representing her client, the
attorney called her client's doctor, held herself out as
a medical doctor, and sought the alteration of her
client's medical records. When the attorney was unable to
reach the doctor, the attorney repeatedly called the
doctor's office over the course of two days and
eventually made unprofessional comments about the doctor.
Furthermore, while only barred in the District of Columbia,
and without a pro hac vice sponsor, the attorney
drafted and filed various pleadings on behalf of her client
before Maryland courts. Finally, this attorney failed to
obtain the trial transcripts required for her client's
appeal in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals which
resulted in the dismissal of that appeal. For the reasons
explained below, we hold that this attorney's conduct
23, 2017, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland,
acting through Bar Counsel filed a Petition for Disciplinary
or Remedial Action ("Petition") with the Court of
Appeals alleging that Melinda Maldonado ("Ms.
Maldonado") had violated the Maryland Lawyers' Rules
of Professional Conduct ("MLRPC" or
"Rules"). See Md. Rule 19-721. Although not
admitted to practice in Maryland, Ms. Maldonado is subject to
the disciplinary authority of Maryland pursuant to Rule
8.5(a)(2). The Petition alleged that Ms. Maldonado, during
her representation of Gladys Duren ("Ms. Duren"),
violated the following Rules: 1.1 (Competence); 4.1
(Truthfulness in Statements to Others); 4.4 (Respect for
Rights of Third Persons); 5.5 (Unauthorized Practice of Law;
Multijurisdictional Practice of Law); 8.1 (Bar Admission and
Disciplinary Matters); and 8.4 (Misconduct).
designated Judge Deborah L. Dwyer ("the hearing
judge") of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County by
Order dated June 1, 2017 to conduct a hearing concerning the
alleged violations and to provide findings of fact and
recommended conclusions of law. See Md. Rule
19-722(a). The Clerk of the Circuit Court for Montgomery
County ("Clerk") issued a summons to be served upon
Ms. Maldonado, and on June 19, 2017, Bar Counsel emailed the
petition, transmittal order, and summons to Ms. Maldonado and
asked if she would consent to electronic service of process.
Ms. Maldonado never responded.
Counsel retained a process server to serve Ms. Maldonado. The
process server was unsuccessful. As a result, the Clerk
reissued the summons. Bar Counsel again emailed the petition,
transmittal order, and summons on August 29, 2017 to Ms.
Maldonado to request electronic service of process. Ms.
Maldonado responded to Bar Counsel's request two days
later and stated that she refused to accept electronic
service of process. The process server also attempted service
upon Ms. Maldonado again in person and failed.
result of these interactions, Bar Counsel filed a Motion to
Permit Service Upon Employee Designated by the Client
Protection Fund of the Bar of Maryland pursuant to Maryland
Rule 19-723(b). Bar Counsel was successful in serving the
Executive Director of the Client Protection Fund of the Bar
Maldonado failed to file a timely answer, causing Bar Counsel
to file a request for an order of default. Eventually, Ms.
Maldonado retained Joseph A. Rillotta, Esquire and Margaret
E. Matavich, Esquire who filed an opposition to the motion
for order of default. In response, Bar Counsel consented to
an extension of time for Ms. Maldonado to file an answer. Ms.
Maldonado filed her answer on December 19, 2017, and Bar
Counsel withdrew its motion.
hearing judge issued a scheduling order setting forth
deadlines to propound and to complete discovery. Bar Counsel
promptly served discovery within the times set forth in the
scheduling order. During this time, Ms. Maldonado sought to
continue the discovery deadlines because she wished to
proceed with new counsel. Bar Counsel opposed any
continuation of this matter noting that Ms. Maldonado had
already delayed the proceeding by evading service of process
and failing to file a timely answer. Ms. Maldonado's
motion was ultimately denied.
Rillotta and Ms. Matavich filed a Motion to Withdraw as
Counsel pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-132(b). Mark G. Chalpin,
Esquire entered his appearance on behalf of Ms. Maldonado. A
few weeks later, Mr. Chalpin moved to withdraw his appearance
due to "irreconcilable differences" with Ms.
Maldonado. Ms. Maldonado, now proceeding pro
se, filed a Motion to Reconsider the Court's
Order regarding the scheduling order. This motion was also
March 22, 2018, Bar Counsel filed a Motion for Sanctions
based on Ms. Maldonado's failure to provide responses to
Bar Counsel's Interrogatories, Requests for Production of
Documents, and Requests for Admissions of Fact and
Genuineness of Documents. Ms. Maldonado, now represented by
William C. Brennan, Esquire, and Nicolas G. Madiou, Esquire,
filed an Opposition to Petitioner's Motion for Sanctions.
Ms. Maldonado stated that her failure to timely answer
discovery was due to illness and issues stemming from changes
in representation. The hearing judge held the motion sub
curia to give the parties additional time to resolve
their discovery dispute. On April 1, Ms. Maldonado provided
Answers to Petitioner's Interrogatories; on April 10, she
provided responses to Bar Counsel's Requests for
Admissions of Fact and Genuineness of Law; and on April 20,
Ms. Maldonado provided a partial response to Bar
Counsel's Request for Production of Documents. As a
result of her incomplete discovery responses, the hearing
judge granted in part and denied in part Bar Counsel's
Motion for Sanctions. The hearing judge precluded Ms.
Maldonado from introducing any documents at trial which were
not produced to Bar Counsel during discovery.
evidentiary hearing took place over the course of two days on
April 30 and May 1. At the evidentiary hearing, Bar Counsel
and Ms. Maldonado presented evidence and several witnesses
testified. The hearing judge submitted her findings of fact
and conclusions of law by a written opinion to this Court. In
her recommended conclusions of law, the hearing judge found
by clear and convincing evidence that Ms. Maldonado violated
Rule 1.1, Rule 4.1, Rule 4.4, Rule 5.5, and Rule 8.4 (a),
(c), and (d).
August 7, 2018, Ms. Maldonado filed a motion in this Court
titled as follows:
Respondent's Motion to Dismiss this Prolonged (Almost
Three Years) Unethical and Immoral Defamation, Harassment
& Interference with Underlying Toxic Mold Litigation by
Petitioner, Attorney Grievance Commission (AGC) of Maryland.
Alternatively, Respondent Motion for a Rehearing due to
Egregious, Ineffective Assistance of Counsel by William C.
Brennan & Nicholas Madiou & Due to Bias of Judge
Debra Dwyer, Motions for a Change of Venue to Anne Arundel
County, Judge Ronald Silkworth (due to County of Original
Jurisdiction of Underlying Toxic Mold Case, Judge
Silkworth's Familiarity w/Issue of Petitioner's,
AGC's, Pattern & Practice of Defaming & Harassing
Respondents while Aiding & Abetting Defense Law Firms
Representing Real Estate Companies who File Grievances
Against Opposing, Plaintiffs' Counsel (Respondents) to
Disrupt Underlying Litigation all in the Name of Money.
("First Motion"). Two days later, Ms. Maldonado
filed a second motion entitled:
Pending this Honorable Court's Review of Respondent's
Definitive Submissions on 8-7-18: Motion to Dismiss, and,
Alternatively, Request for a Rehearing due to Ineffective
Assistance of Counsel & Biased/Legal Errors/Incorrect
Findings of Facts Based on False Hearsay by Judge Dwyer;
Motion for Change of Venue to Anne Arundel County Before
Judge Ronald Silkworth Given Original Jurisdiction of
Underlying Toxic Mold Case and Judge Silkworth's
Experience with AGC-Respondent Hereby Inherently Submits this
Motion to Extend Time to File Exceptions Document &
Opposition to Motion for Sanctions & Will be Submitting
in Turn Respondent's Motion for Sanctions Against the
AGC/Bar Counsel & a Supplement to Motion to Dismiss.
("Second Motion"). As to her First Motion, this
Court ordered action deferred pending oral argument. This
Court granted her Second Motion to the extent that this Court
permitted Ms. Maldonado to file any exceptions on or before
September 5, 2018.
Counsel took no exceptions and Ms. Maldonado filed numerous
exceptions to the hearing judge's findings of fact and
recommended conclusions of law. Ms. Maldonado filed another
motion to dismiss, entitled Respondent's Motion to
Dismiss Part 2: ("Third Motion") on October 5, 2018
and filed an amended motion to dismiss, also entitled
Respondent's Motion to Dismiss Part 2: ("Fourth
Motion") two days later. We heard oral argument in this
matter on November 5, 2018.
begin with a summary of the hearing judge's factual
findings. Ms. Maldonado has never been barred in Maryland.
She was admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia on
November 14, 2003. Since then, she has maintained a law
office in Arlington, Virginia and has focused on representing
personal injury clients, specifically the practice of toxic
mold litigation. This matter involves multiple instances of
misconduct stemming from a toxic tort action filed in
Maryland in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County.
Maldonado's Unauthorized Practice of Law
summer of 2013, David Haynes, Esquire, referred Ms. Duren, a
Maryland resident, to Ms. Maldonado. Ms. Duren sought to sue
her former landlord, Home Properties Resident Services, Inc.
("Home Properties"), because she alleged she became
ill from toxic mold infestation in her rental townhome in
Glen Burnie, Maryland. After meeting with Ms. Duren, Ms.
Maldonado drafted a complaint. With Ms. Maldonado's
assistance, Ms. Duren signed the complaint, indicated she was
proceeding pro se, and filed the complaint with the
Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County on April 24, 2014. The
case was assigned case number 02-C-14-187157. Ms. Maldonado
also filled out the case information report for Ms. Duren
which Ms. Duren also signed and filed pro se. Ms.
Maldonado drafted an amended complaint that Ms. Duren signed
and filed. The amended complaint continued to indicate that
Ms. Duren was proceeding pro se.
Duren and Ms. Maldonado retained Christopher T. Nace,
Esquire, and Paulson & Nace, PPLC to assist in the
lawsuit. The retainer agreement between Ms. Maldonado, Ms.
Duren, and Mr. Nace stated:
This retainer agreement does not cover any appeals which may
need to be filed on behalf of us as a consequence of an
adverse event in my case. If Paulson & Nace, PPLC agrees
to prosecute such an appeal on my behalf, then a new retainer
agreement may be drawn up.
retainer agreement stated further, "[i]f Paulson &
Nace, PPLC comes to the conclusion that the case is
non-meritorious or that it would be economically unsound to
proceed, Paulson & Nace, PPLC reserves the right to seek
Nace filed a motion for special admission pro hac
vice on Ms. Maldonado's behalf. The motion was
granted and the order granting the motion specifically
stated, "the presence of Maryland counsel, Christopher
T. Nace, Esquire, is not waived, and Maryland counsel must
appear at all proceedings and co-sign all pleadings and
S. Liskow, Esquire, and Emily F. Belanger, Esquire, of
DeCaro, Doran, Siciliano, Gallagher & DeBlasis, LLP
represented Home Properties. A jury trial took place between
July 28-30, 2015. At the end of Ms. Duren's case, Mr.
Liskow moved for a directed verdict. The circuit court
granted the motion and entered judgment in favor of Home
the circuit court trial, Mr. Nace filed a notice of appeal
with the circuit court pursuant to Maryland Rule 8-201(a) to
preserve Ms. Duren's right of appeal. Shortly after the
notice of appeal, Mr. Nace informed Ms. Duren that he and his
firm would not be entering into a new agreement for services
related to the appeal and would be withdrawing as counsel of
record. Ms. Duren consented.
Nace informed Ms. Maldonado about his withdrawal from the
appeal through email and stated: "I don't believe
that you can appear at the Court of Special Appeals, but I am
not certain." Ms. Maldonado responded and stated,
"Yes, agreed. Maryland [c]ounsel is required."
However, after Mr. Nace withdrew, Ms. Maldonado continued to
work on the case without a pro hac vice sponsor. Ms.
Maldonado drafted pleadings and briefs for Ms. Duren to sign
pro se and filed those pleadings in the Court of
Special Appeals on behalf of Ms. Duren.
Home Properties moved to dismiss the appeal pursuant to
Maryland Rule 8-602 based on Ms. Duren's failure to
obtain the trial transcript pursuant to Maryland Rule
8-413(a)(2). The Court of Special Appeals denied the motion
without prejudice and ordered Ms. Duren to "take all
steps necessary to cause all transcripts necessary for this
Appeal to be filed in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel
County on or before February 1, 2016." The transcripts
were never filed. Home Properties filed a second Motion to
Dismiss which the Court of Special Appeals granted.
Maldonado drafted Appellant's Motion for Reconsideration
of: Dismissal, Automatic Retrial, Extension of Time as Court
Deems Reasonable & Waiver of Fees Given Severe Disability
("Motion for Reconsideration"). Ms. Maldonado typed
Ms. Duren's electronic signature with Ms. Duren's
consent and electronically filed the document with Ms.
Duren's email address. The Court of Special Appeals
denied the Motion for Reconsideration and issued a Mandate.
Ms. Maldonado drafted a Petition for Writ of Certiorari for
Ms. Duren. Ms. Maldonado typed Ms. Duren's electronic
signature and electronically filed the Petition for Writ of
Certiorari using Ms. Duren's email address on April 27,
2016 with this Court. The Petition stated Ms. Duren was
proceeding pro se. Ms. Maldonado also drafted the
Certificate of Word Count and Compliance for Ms. Duren, typed
Ms. Duren's electronic signature, and electronically
filed the document using Ms. Duren's email address.
Again, on June 14 and June 19, Ms. Maldonado drafted, typed
Ms. Duren's electronic signature, and electronically
filed two documents entitled Pro Se Petitioner's
Reply-Part 1-to Respondents' Answer to Petition for Writ
of Certiorari and Pro Se Petitioner's Reply-Part 2-to
Respondent's Answer to Petition for Writ of Certiorari.
Court denied the Petition for Writ of Certiorari as untimely
filed. Ms. Maldonado then drafted Pro Se & Severely
Disabled Petitioner's Motion for Reconsideration of
Dismissal & Demand to Reinstate Case due to Early Not
Late Filing, typed Ms. Duren's electronic signature, and
electronically filed the document using Ms. Duren's email
address. We denied the motion.
the denial, Ms. Maldonado drafted a Petition for Writ of
Certiorari ("Petition") to the Supreme Court of the
United States. Again, the Petition stated Ms. Duren was
proceeding pro se and Ms. Duren signed the Petition.
Ms. Duren consented to the entry of appearances of Ms.
Maldonado and Relinda Louisy, Esquire, as her attorneys
before the Supreme Court. Ultimately, the Supreme Court
issued an Order denying the Petition for Writ of Certiorari.
Maldonado's Communications with the Office of John Wiley,
February 9, 2015, Emily Belanger, Esquire, an attorney for
Home Properties, issued a subpoena to Dr. John Wiley, a
pulmonologist who treated Ms. Duren at Baltimore Washington
Medical Center ("BWMC"). Ms. Maldonado called Dr.
Wiley's office on July 21, 2015 at 10:13 a.m. Dr.
Wiley's medical assistant, Keisha Lipscomb, answered. Ms.
Maldonado identified herself to Ms. Lipscomb as "Doctor
Maldonado" and asked to speak with Dr. Wiley. Ms.
Maldonado further stated she had information that Ms. Duren
was exposed to toxic mold and that she needed to tell Dr.
Wiley about the toxic mold exposure so it could be added to
Ms. Duren's records. Ms. Lipscomb stated that Dr. Wiley
was unavailable to speak but that she would take a message
for Dr. Wiley.
Maldonado called Dr. Wiley's office four more times that
day, at 10:48 a.m., 10:55 a.m., 11:31 a.m., and 11:38 a.m.
Ms. Maldonado was unable to reach Dr. Wiley and grew
increasingly frustrated. Eventually, Ms. Maldonado revealed
that she was Ms. Duren's attorney and that she needed
documentation from Dr. Wiley immediately for a court filing.
At 11:01 a.m., Ms. Lipscomb made the following entry in Ms.
Duren's patient log:
DR MELINDA MALDONADO called. . . . She would like to you
[sic] call her, because she needs you to change your hospital
note since you noted that the patient has allergies when in
fact she was exposed to mold and needs to educate you on
[S]he would like you to call asap since she has to file
paperwork within 15 min. [S]tates she is a physician and a
Lipscomb testified she was confused by Ms. Maldonado's
phone calls and was unsure how to answer them. Ms.
Lipscomb's supervisor eventually instructed her not to
speak with Ms. Maldonado. The calls were transferred to the
office manager, Michelle Andrade. Ms. Lipscomb reviewed Ms.
Duren's medical chart to determine if she could determine
why Ms. Maldonado was repeatedly calling. Ms. Lipscomb found
the subpoena from Ms. Belanger, whom she believed was Ms.
Duren's attorney, in the file.
11:18 a.m., Dr. Elizabeth McIlmoyle made the following entry
in Ms. Duren's patient log:
This person called 4 x so far today, asking the above [as
described in Ms. Lipscomb's note]. She spoke w/
[M]ichelle, [K]esha and [A]ndrea. Kesha called the
[patient's] lawyer (who we have sent records to before
w/signed release and whose info is in the chart) ...