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Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Lefkowitz

Court of Appeals of Maryland

March 29, 2019

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND
v.
JON A. LEFKOWITZ

          Barbera, C.J., Greene, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, Adkins, Sally D., (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.

          OPINION

          HOTTEN, J.

         On October 25, 2018, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, acting through Bar Counsel ("Petitioner"), filed a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action against Jon A. Lefkowitz ("Respondent"). The petition alleged that Respondent violated Maryland Attorneys' Rules of Professional Conduct ("MARPC") 19-308.4(a), (b), (c), and (d)[1] based on conduct which resulted in his conviction of criminal facilitation in the fourth degree[2] by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Second Judicial Department of New York. Respondent was suspended from the practice of law in New York for two-years as a result of this conduct.

         In response to the Petition, and in accordance with Maryland Rule 19-737(c), this Court issued a Show Cause Order on October 26, 2018, directing Petitioner and Respondent to "show cause in writing based upon any grounds set forth in Maryland Rule 19-737(c) why corresponding discipline [or inactive status] should not be imposed." Both Petitioner and Respondent timely responded to the Show Cause Order, and oral argument before this Court took place on March 1, 2019. For the reasons outlined below, we order Respondent disbarred from the practice of law in the State of Maryland.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Respondent was admitted to the New York State Bar on January 5, 1994 and the Maryland State Bar on July 6, 1994.[3] On May 11, 2016, Respondent pled guilty before the Onondaga County Court of New York to one count of criminal facilitation in the fourth degree, N.Y. Penal Law § 115.00(1), and entered into a plea and cooperation agreement. In addition to pleading guilty, the agreement provided that: Respondent waive his right to appeal the guilty plea; Respondent acknowledge that his license to practice law may be negatively impacted; Respondent shall fully cooperate with any investigation conducted by the New York Office of the Attorney General ("OAG"); Respondent inform the OAG if he plans to travel outside of the tri-state (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) area; and Respondent shall refrain from committing any other crimes. On May 12, 2017, Respondent was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge.[4]

         The conduct leading to Respondent's guilty plea occurred in connection with a criminal case in which the State of New York prosecuted Respondent's cousin and his cousin's wife, Alexander March and Sima March respectively, for mortgage fraud. At the time, Mr. and Ms. March were in Canada, fighting extradition to New York. Mr. March secured Respondent's assistance in seeking testimony from a witness in the mortgage fraud case who had provided grand jury testimony against Mr. and Ms. March. In Respondent's response to this Court's Show Cause Order, he explains that Mr. March asserted that the Attorney General of the State of New York inaccurately represented the witness's testimony to the Canadian authorities, and that he wished to acquire and provide "the actual testimony and true facts to the Canadian Appellate Court[.]" In accordance with Mr. March's request, Respondent obtained and prepared a subpoena template from the New York Unified Court System website.[5] The subpoena, addressed to a Ms. Jacqueline Watkins, stated as follows:

WE COMMAND YOU, that all business and excuses being laid aside, answer the attached questionnaire, under oath, and return it to the Law Office of Jon Ari Lefkowitz PC, on or before the 17[th] day of January 2014.
*** Failure to comply with this subpoena is punishable as contempt of Court and shall make you liable to the person on whose behalf this subpoena was issued for a penalty not to exceed fifty dollars and all damages sustained by reason of your failure to comply.
WITNESS, Honorable Donald A. Greenwood, one of the judges of said Court at Syracuse, New York on the 15[th] day of Nov[.], 2013.

         The subpoena was neither directed nor authorized by Judge Greenwood. Neither the Honorable Judge Greenwood's signature, nor Respondent's signature, appeared on the subpoena. However, a signature line with Respondent's name, address, and title as "Attorney for Sima March" below it, appeared in the bottom right corner of the form.

         At his plea hearing before the County of Onondaga Court on May 11, 2016, Respondent admitted to the following:[6]

[O]n or about November 22, 2013, believing it probable that [he was] rendering aid to Alexander March, who intended to commit a crime in Onondaga [C]ounty, that [he] engaged in conduct which provided Alexander March with the means and opportunity through the commission thereof and which in fact aided Alexander March to commit the felony of forgery in the second degree, in violation of Penal Law Section 170.10 Subdivision 1; to wit, with knowledge that it would be served, [he] drafted a judicial subpoena that purported to be witnessed by a Supreme Court judge that ordered a witness to answer a written questionnaire under oath and under penalty of contempt in regards to the matter of the People of the State of New York v. Sima [] March and Alexander March.

         On May 12, 2017, Respondent was sentenced to a one-year discharge, conditioned upon the accompanying plea agreement.

         On March 23, 2017, Respondent was suspended from the practice of law in the State of New York pursuant to New York Judiciary Law § 90(4)(f), [7] based on his conviction of criminal facilitation in the fourth degree, categorized as a serious crime, relative to the above admitted conduct. On July 19, 2017, Respondent was ordered by the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department (the "New York Court") to show cause at a hearing as to why an order of suspension, censure, or disbarment should not be imposed upon his license to practice law in the State of New York. Before the New York Court, Respondent requested a sanction no greater than a public censure, pointing to the following mitigating factors: he harbored no intent to deceive; he acted in good faith by using a subpoena form that he had previously used without difficulty; he was merely attempting to help a cousin; he did not act for financial gain; he made a mistake, which he vowed to never repeat; and he had an excellent reputation as an attorney who cares deeply about his clients. The New York Court concluded that

[n]otwithstanding the above mitigation, the respondent's conduct on its face created a deception. Not only had Judge Greenwood not signed the subpoena, but the respondent had not entered an appearance on behalf of his cousin or his cousin's wife. Yet, the respondent interjected himself into a criminal proceeding by providing the subpoena to his cousin for the purpose of evading extradition. The conclusion that the respondent's conduct constituted a knowing, direct, and intentional interference in the judicial process is inescapable as he admittedly attempted to assist his cousin in evading extradition.

         On July 11, 2018, the New York Court suspended Respondent from the practice of law in the State of New York for two years, giving credit to the time that had elapsed since Respondent was summarily suspended on March 23, 2017 pursuant to N.Y. Judiciary Law § 90(4)(f). Respondent promptly notified the Maryland State Bar of his suspension, after which the current proceedings before this Court were initiated.

         STANDARD ...


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