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Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Sanderson

Court of Appeals of Maryland

July 23, 2019

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND
v.
GARLAND MONTGOMERY JARRAT SANDERSON

          Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 24-C-18-002381 AG

          Barbera, C.J., Greene, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, Battaglia, Lynne A. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.

          OPINION

          GETTY, J.

         Pursuant to Maryland Rule 19-721, Bar Counsel filed a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action ("Petition") against Respondent, Garland Montgomery Jarrat Sanderson, in this Court on March 26, 2018. In the Petition, Bar Counsel charged Mr. Sanderson with multiple violations of the Maryland Attorneys' Rules of Professional Conduct, [1] throughout his representation of several clients, including: (i) MLRPC 1.1 (Competency); (ii) MLRPC 1.2 (Scope of Representation and Allocation of Authority Between Client and Attorney); (iii) MLRPC 1.3 (Diligence); (iv) MLRPC 1.4 (Communication); (v) MLRPC 1.5 (Fees); (vi) MLRPC 3.4 (Fairness to Opposing Party and Attorney); (vii) MLRPC 8.1 (Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters); and (viii) MLRPC 8.4 (Misconduct). The Petition also alleged several violations of the provisions regulating attorney trust accounts including: (i) Maryland Rule 19-407; (ii) Maryland Rule 19-408; (iii) Maryland Rule 19-410; and (iv) Md. Code (1984, 2014 Repl. Vol.), Business Occupations and Professions ("BOP") § 10-306.

         The charges emanated from various complaints filed with Bar Counsel against Mr. Sanderson, stretching across Mr. Sanderson's representation of several clients. Pursuant to Maryland Rule 19-722, we referred the Petition to Judge John S. Nugent of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City for a hearing to determine findings of fact and recommended conclusions of law. See also Md. Rule 19-727. The hearing spanned two days occurring on November 26 and 27, 2018.

         On January 10, 2019, the hearing judge issued his findings of fact and conclusions of law. Therein, he concluded that Mr. Sanderson violated MLRPC 1.1; 1.2 (a) and (c); 1.3; 1.4(a)(1), (a)(2), and (b); 1.5(c); 1.15(a), (b), (c), and (d); 3.4;[2] 8.1; and 8.4(a), (c), and (e). The hearing judge also concluded that Mr. Sanderson violated Maryland Rules 19-410(b), 19-407, 19-408, and BOP § 10-306.

         Both Mr. Sanderson and Bar Counsel filed exceptions to the hearing judge's findings of fact and recommended conclusions of law. In terms of his factual findings, both parties agree that the hearing judge incorrectly determined that Mr. Sanderson owed one of his clients, Ms. Sharon Ozel, $6, 900 instead of $4, 900. Mr. Sanderson also took exception to several of the hearing judge's conclusions of law, and each will be discussed at length within our analysis. Bar Counsel's sole exception to the hearing judge's conclusions of law concerned the hearing judge's failure to find that Mr. Sanderson violated MLRPC 8.4(d). In terms of an appropriate sanction, Bar Counsel urged this court to disbar Mr. Sanderson; whereas, Mr. Sanderson recommended a more lenient sanction - a six-month suspension with an ability to reinstate once he satisfies certain conditions.

         This Court held oral argument in the matter on April 5, 2019. Although Larry Rogers, Esq., entered his appearance as counsel to represent Mr. Sanderson in these proceedings and although Mr. Rogers was present at oral argument, Mr. Sanderson argued on his own behalf. By per curiam order dated April 5, 2019, we disbarred Mr. Sanderson. In this opinion, we explain the reasons for that order.

         BACKGROUND

         We summarize the hearing judge's findings of fact and the record submitted at the attorney grievance hearing as follows.

         Mr. Sanderson's Legal Practice

         Mr. Sanderson has been a member of the Bar of Maryland since 2005. He operates as a solo practitioner with offices in Baltimore City and Silver Spring. His practice has primarily focused on child in need of assistance ("CINA") cases, personal injury, criminal and immigration cases. Throughout the events described herein, Mr. Sanderson maintained a Maryland attorney trust account with Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. ("Wells Fargo").

         Bar Counsel Docket No. 2013-297-04-14

         The first complaint against Mr. Sanderson originated from his representation of a client, Olugboyega O. Odubanjo before Judge Patricia Mitchell of the District Court of Maryland sitting in Montgomery County. In short, Mr. Sanderson failed to appear in court on behalf of Mr. Odubanjo. As a result, Judge Mitchell filed a complaint against him with Bar Counsel.

         On January 24, 2013, Mr. Odubanjo was charged with three potentially incarcerable traffic offenses. Mr. Odubanjo's initial trial date was set for August 9, 2012. After appearing before the court without counsel, Mr. Odubanjo requested a continuance so that he could retain counsel. The district court granted the continuance and rescheduled the hearing for January 24, 2013.

         The day before Mr. Odubanjo's trial, i.e., January 23, 2013, Mr. Sanderson filed a motion for continuance and an entry of appearance on behalf of Mr. Odubanjo.[3] In the motion, Mr. Sanderson explained that he was unable to participate in the hearing scheduled for the following day because of a scheduling conflict. Further, Mr. Sanderson entered his appearance of Mr. Odubanjo the day prior to trial, knowing full well he would be unable to appear before the court if his motion were denied. On the morning of January 24, 2013, the district court denied the motion because the court determined that Mr. Sanderson's action of "accepting a case knowing of [ ] existing, conflicting trial dates did not constitute good cause for a [second] continuance."[4]

         Unaware of the motion or its denial, Mr. Odubanjo appeared before the district court on January 24, 2013. When Mr. Odubanjo's case was called, Judge Mitchell delayed the hearing in attempt to locate Mr. Sanderson. Ultimately, Mr. Sanderson failed to appear on behalf of Mr. Odubanjo despite Judge Mitchell's denial of his motion for continuance. Mr. Sanderson's absence caused further delay in the resolution of Mr. Odubanjo's case and required the court to schedule a third hearing. Consequently, Mr. Odubanjo then terminated Mr. Sanderson's representation, and Judge Mitchell filed a complaint with Bar Counsel regarding Mr. Sanderson's conduct.

         On March 14, 2013, after receiving Judge Mitchell's complaint, Bar Counsel sent a letter to Mr. Sanderson requesting he explain in writing why he failed to appear in court on Mr. Odubanjo's behalf. The communication indicated that Bar Counsel required additional information to determine whether the matter should be classified as a formal documented complaint or non-disciplinary in nature. Additionally, Bar Counsel's letter provided Mr. Sanderson with fifteen days to respond to the request. In a letter dated April 29, 2013, Mr. Sanderson provided Bar Counsel with an untimely response. Therein, he represented that he understood his actions were inappropriate but argued they were driven by a desire to assist Mr. Odubanjo.

         In correspondence dated March 14, 2013, Bar Counsel informed Mr. Sanderson that his case required additional review to determine whether he violated provisions of the MLRPC throughout his representation of Mr. Odubanjo. On May 23, 2013, Bar Counsel sent a letter to Mr. Sanderson that requested he provide Bar Counsel with a copy of his entire client file for Mr. Odubanjo. In the letter, Bar Counsel provided Mr. Sanderson with a fifteen-day period to respond. Again, Mr. Sanderson failed to respond in a timely manner. On July 3, 2013, Mr. Sanderson responded to Bar Counsel's request for Mr. Odubanjo's client file. In this correspondence, with reference to a client file corresponding to his representation of Mr. Odubanjo, Mr. Sanderson replied that "no such documents or documents [sic] exist[, ]" and denied that Mr. Odubanjo ever retained him as his attorney. Mr. Sanderson continued by stating, "I attempt [sic] to get a postponement for Mr. Odubanjo, and if that would have been granted we were to make arrangements for representation."

         Conditional Diversion Agreement

         On January 6, 2014, based on Mr. Sanderson's alleged misconduct in his representation of Mr. Odubanjo, Mr. Sanderson and Bar Counsel entered into a Conditional Diversion Agreement ("CDA"), pursuant to Maryland Rule 19-716.[5] The agreement was for a period of two years and therein Mr. Sanderson agreed that he had violated MLRPC 1.1 by failing to appear on behalf of Mr. Odubanjo. As a condition of his agreement with Bar Counsel, Mr. Sanderson consented to the appointment of a monitor. The monitor's role involved providing oversight of certain aspects of Mr. Sanderson's practice, conducting regular communication and meetings with Mr. Sanderson, and filing reports with Bar Counsel at specified intervals. Under the CDA, Mr. Sanderson was also required to attend two legal education courses sponsored by the Maryland State Bar Association ("MSBA"): one course focusing on managing a law office and a second concerning attorney trust account management. The Attorney Grievance Commission approved the CDA on February 14, 2014 and stayed the corresponding disciplinary matter.

         From the time of the CDA until Bar Counsel filed a petition to revoke the CDA on April 25, 2017, Midgett S. Parker Jr., Esq. of the Law Office of Linowes & Blocher, LLP served as Mr. Sanderson's monitor. Within this period, Mr. Parker filed twelve reports with Bar Counsel. During Parker's tenure as Mr. Sanderson's monitor, he met with and counseled Sanderson multiple times. Following the meetings, Mr. Parker would draft communications regarding Mr. Sanderson's progress and communicate his conclusions to Bar Counsel. In each report, Mr. Parker indicated that Mr. Sanderson was receptive to his suggestions and guidance.

         Over the two-year time frame of the CDA, Mr. Sanderson completed several of the requirements. Despite this, the twelfth and final report by Mr. Parker, dated September 12, 2016, noted that Mr. Sanderson failed to attend any courses sponsored by the MSBA involving law office and attorney trust account management. On December 15, 2016, Bar Counsel sent a letter to Mr. Sanderson advising of his failure to comply with the CDA. At the time, Mr. Sanderson did not respond to or contest Bar Counsel's assertion. Consequently, Bar Counsel revoked the CDA and lifted the stay on the underlying disciplinary proceedings. While Mr. Parker monitored Mr. Sanderson, Bar Counsel received four other complaints against Mr. Sanderson. Bar Counsel engaged in further investigation into two of the four complaints.

         Bar Counsel Docket No. 2017-0152

         Shortly after Bar Counsel sent notice to Mr. Sanderson regarding his failure to comply with the CDA, Bar Counsel received a communication from Wells Fargo notifying it of an overdraft on Mr. Sanderson's attorney trust account in the amount of $114.83. On January 25 and March 7, 2017, Bar Counsel sent letters to Mr. Sanderson which informed him that Bar Counsel was aware of the overdraft on his attorney trust account, requested a complete explanation of the overdraft, and requested access to records concerning Mr. nderson's attorney trust accounts. In both correspondences, Bar Counsel requested that Mr. Sanderson respond within ten days. However, Mr. Sanderson failed to respond to either of Bar Counsel's inquiries. On April 10, 2017, Bar Counsel issued a subpoena requesting that Wells Fargo produce any and all records associated with Mr. Sanderson's trust account from January 1, 2016 until the date of the subpoena.

         A month after Bar Counsel issued the subpoena, Mr. Sanderson left a voicemail for Bar Counsel in which he stated that he could "submit the documents next week." Bar Counsel returned Mr. Sanderson's call, was unable to reach him, and left a voicemail. On May 11, 2017, Bar Counsel wrote again to Mr. Sanderson, mentioned the voicemail, and requested that Mr. Sanderson provide the requested documents by May 19, 2017. On June 15, 2017, Bar Counsel sent a letter to Mr. Sanderson reiterating the contents of the previous letter and providing Mr. Sanderson with a revised deadline to supply the documents - June 25, 2017. In the correspondence, Bar Counsel also requested to be informed if Mr. Rogers was representing Mr. Sanderson in the instant disciplinary matter.

         On June 19, 2017, Wells Fargo responded to Bar Counsel's subpoena and provided extensive records concerning Mr. Sanderson's attorney trust and operating accounts. On June 22, 2017, Mr. Rogers wrote to Bar Counsel but failed to clarify the reason for the overdraft. Instead, Mr. Rogers only indicated that the overdraft was related to a filing fee in a civil case and the deficiency had since been rectified. Additionally, Mr. Rogers referred to Mr. Sanderson's compliance, or lack thereof, with the CDA and stated his intention to discuss subsequent complaints filed against Mr. Sanderson with Bar Counsel at a later date. On July 13, 2017, Bar Counsel sent another correspondence to Mr. Sanderson, and he again failed to respond. Altogether, Bar Counsel wrote Mr. Sanderson six times requesting an explanation for the overdraft.[6] With respect to each correspondence, Mr. Sanderson failed to timely respond, failed to offer an adequate explanation, and failed to provide any records associated with his attorney trust account.

         In the interim, Charles E. Miller, IV, an investigator for the Attorney Grievance Commission, began to investigate Mr. Sanderson's attorney trust account records as a result of the overdraft notice provided by Wells Fargo. During the review, in addition to the overdraft that acted as a catalyst for the investigation, Mr. Miller determined that Mr. Sanderson engaged in several impermissible practices on multiple occasions, including: (i) making cash disbursements from his attorney trust account; (ii) transferring funds from his operating account into his attorney trust account; (iii) failing to maintain client funds in trust until earned; and (iv) using client funds to pay other clients.[7]

         Mr. Miller determined that Mr. Sanderson's attorney trust account overdraft originated from his representation of Sharon Ozel. In 2015, Ms. Ozel retained Mr. Sanderson to represent her in a personal injury matter involving a car accident. Initially, Ms. Ozel met with Mr. Sanderson at the Juvenile Justice Center in Baltimore to discuss the representation. During the meeting, Mr. Sanderson failed to adequately explain to Ms. Ozel the amount of his fee, but she testified at the disciplinary hearing that she believed he would receive a $2, 000 sum from any settlement or judgment in the matter. Mr. Sanderson later negotiated a settlement in Ms. Ozel's personal injury action.

         In July 2016, Mr. Sanderson contacted Ms. Ozel and asked her to meet him at a movie theater in Owings Mills to provide her with a check for $2, 000. Ms. Ozel testified that Mr. Sanderson had her sign a form to release the $2, 000, and never informed her of the $6, 900 settlement check from USAA. Nevertheless, the record reflects that Mr. Sanderson had her sign the settlement check and a form to release $2, 000.00. However, he failed to provide Ms. Ozel with a copy of the form, never mentioned the $6, 900 total, and did not provide her with the $2, 000 check they had previously discussed.

         The hearing judge determined that "[i]n late July 2016, [Mr. Sanderson] provided Ms. Ozel with an additional $2, 000 and told her that money was still owed from a worker's compensation claim." Next, in December of 2016, Mr. Sanderson provided Ms. Ozel with a check for $2, 900 which he represented emanated from a worker's compensation claim. Approximately a year later, while under investigation by Bar Counsel, Mr. Sanderson contacted Ms. Ozel. In a telephone conversation, Mr. Sanderson asked Ms. Ozel if she had been contacted by anyone regarding his representation of her. She informed him that, at the time, she had not been contacted by anyone. Approximately four or five days later, Ms. Ozel encountered Mr. Sanderson at the Baltimore City Juvenile Court. She testified that during this encounter, he again asked whether she had been contacted by anyone regarding his representation of her. He then instructed her that, if anyone were to contact her, she should inform them that she retained him in a different matter in addition to the personal injury matter, later changed her mind, and requested that he refund the $2, 900. The record reflects that Ms. Ozel never retained Mr. Sanderson in another matter and therefore the statement he urged her to provide to any potential investigators was patently false. He then requested that Ms. Ozel repeat the information back to him in an apparent attempt to ensure that she memorized the narrative of falsehoods. According to Ms. Ozel's testimony, approximately one month later, he called her again. When she answered, he told her "I'm sorry," and then hung up the phone.

         Mr. Miller's review of the financial records associated with Mr. Sanderson's attorney trust account revealed that Mr. Sanderson had mismanaged client funds for several of his clients including Darren Parham and Duane Wilkinson. First, Mr. Miller determined that Mr. Sanderson used funds belonging to one client, Darren Parham, and used them to pay another client, Mattie Hines.

         During his representation of Mr. Wilkinson, Mr. Sanderson received a settlement check for $40, 000 from the Cincinnati Insurance Company. On November 28, 2016, he deposited the check into his attorney trust account. Of these funds, Mr. Sanderson paid Mr. Wilkinson $22, 933.28. After disbursing his fee in the matter, funds remained in the trust account stemming from Mr. Sanderson's representation of Mr. Wilkinson. The record does not reflect the eventual fate of these funds.

         BC Docket No. 2016-1374

         Toumany Sangare is an immigrant from Guinea and was a resident of Montana at all times relevant to these grievance proceedings. In 2005, Mr. Sangare married a United States citizen, and his wife filed with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("UCIS") a Petition for Alien Relative ("I-130") and an Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status ("I-485") on his behalf in March of 2006. On September 16, 2010, UCIS denied Mr. Sangare's I-130 and I-485 petitions and referred Mr. Sangare for removal proceedings. On December 1, 2010, the U.S. Immigration Court held a hearing on Mr. Sangare's removal proceedings. At the removal hearing, the court granted Mr. Sangare a continuance to allow him opportunity to retain counsel. Mr. Sangare's next hearing was then scheduled for March 16, 2011. On that date, the court granted Mr. Sangare a second continuance and rescheduled the hearing for July 6, 2011.

         On June 22, 2011, Mr. Sangare remarried. [8] On the date scheduled for Mr. Sangare's hearing, Mr. Sanderson filed a motion for continuance and a notice of entry of appearance on behalf of Mr. Sangare, dated June 28, 2011. In his motion, Mr. Sanderson represented that he had another court appearance on the same date and at the same time in the District Court of Maryland Sitting in Baltimore County. Mr. Sangare appeared before the court without counsel and the court continued the matter until August 24, 2011. On August 11, 2011, Ms. Hamrick, Mr. Sangare's new wife, filed a new I-130 petition on Mr. Sangare's behalf.

         The court held Mr. Sangare's removal hearing on August 24, 2011. When the case was initially called, both Mr. Sangare and Mr. Sanderson failed to appear. Therefore, the court moved the case to the end of its docket and, by the time the case was recalled, Mr. Sanderson appeared. In his interaction with the court, Mr. Sanderson conceded that Mr. Sangare was subject to removal but indicated that he would file another I-130 petition based on Mr. Sangare's second marriage. The record indicates that Mr. Sanderson failed to inform Mr. Sangare that he would not appear at the hearing.

         In the interim, UCIS denied Mr. Sangare's second I-130 petition. The court provided Mr. Sanderson with notice of the denial, but he failed to advise Mr. Sangare of it or its significance. On July 17, 2013, Mr. Sanderson and Mr. Sangare appeared again before the U.S. Immigration Court for a status hearing. There, the court requested the basis for UCIS' denial of Mr. Sangare's I-130 petition but Mr. Sanderson indicated that he had not yet had a chance to review it with his client and therefore was unable to respond to the court's inquiry. Thereafter, the court set the matter for a voluntary departure hearing.

         On August 2, 2013, the court scheduled an individual hearing for Mr. Sangare for November 14, 2013 and sent notice of the hearing to Mr. Sanderson. Mr. Sanderson informed Mr. Sangare of the November hearing date. Afterwards, Mr. Sangare attempted to contact Mr. Sanderson to ascertain the time of the hearing. Mr. Sanderson failed to respond to Mr. Sangare's inquiry. On November 12, 2013, however, Mr. Sanderson called Mr. Sangare and inquired as to the time of the hearing. Mr. Sangare was unsure and informed Mr. Sanderson that he believed it would occur at 1:30 p.m. - the time at which the court had scheduled his prior hearings. Mr. Sangare asked Mr. Sanderson to confirm the time of the hearing and to contact him with that information but Mr. Sanderson ultimately failed to do so.

         At the November 14, 2013 hearing, the court called Mr. Sangare's case; he and Mr. Sanderson were not present. As a result, the court deemed the case abandoned and entered an order of removal against Mr. Sangare. At 1:30 p.m., Mr. Sanderson and Mr. Sangare appeared before the court and learned of the order of removal. Mr. Sanderson filed a motion to re-open Mr. Sangare's case but ultimately failed to provide the court with any required supporting affidavits. The court denied the motion on December 3, 2014. In the interim, Mr. Sanderson filed an appeal on behalf of Mr. Sangare.

         On June 20, 2016, the United States Board of Immigration Appeals denied Mr. Sangare's appeal. On July 11, 2016, Mr. Sangare filed a complaint against Mr. Sanderson with Bar Counsel. On July 18, 2016, Bar Counsel forwarded a copy of the complaint to Mr. Sanderson and requested that he provide a written response within fifteen days of receipt. Mr. Sanderson failed to reply in a timely manner in writing. Therefore, Bar Counsel sent another correspondence to Mr. Sanderson via certified mail requesting that Mr. Sanderson respond to the complaint within ten days. On approximately August 22, 2016, Mr. Sanderson's agent received the correspondence. Mr. Sanderson again failed to provide a timely response to Bar Counsel's inquiry. On September 16, 2016, Bar Counsel wrote to Mr. Sanderson yet again, including copies of the prior correspondences, advising him that an investigation was forthcoming, and requesting a response within ten days. Again, Mr. Sanderson failed to provide a timely response to Bar Counsel's correspondence.

         BC Docket No. 2015-2413

         On November 26, 2015, Mr. Sanderson was representing the parent of a child in a CINA case at a hearing before the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Tuesday Racquel Isom-Cyrus, a social worker for Baltimore County Department of Social Services ("BCDSS"), testified at the hearing. After the hearing ended, Mr. Sanderson approached Ms. Isom-Cyrus in the hallway outside of the courtroom and, after a brief but heated exchange of words, he called her a "baby-snatching bitch."

         On November 30, 2015, Ms. Isom-Cyrus filed a complaint against Mr. Sanderson with Bar Counsel in reference to the incident that occurred four days earlier. On December 10, 2015, Bar Counsel sent a correspondence to Mr. Sanderson regarding Ms. Isom-Cyrus' complaint and requested that he respond within ten days. Mr. Sanderson failed to respond to Bar Counsel's inquiry in a timely manner. Therefore, Bar Counsel wrote to Mr. Sanderson again requesting that he respond within ten days. Again, Mr. Sanderson failed to provide Bar Counsel with a timely response. After failing to obtain a response from Mr. Sanderson, Bar Counsel wrote to Mr. Parker, Mr. Sanderson's monitor, requesting Mr. Sanderson provide a response to their inquiries. In a letter dated January 19, 2016, Mr. Sanderson responded to Bar Counsel's previous communications and indicated that he did not recall using any profanity toward Ms. Isom-Cyrus.

         On February 3, 2016, Bar Counsel sent another letter to Mr. Sanderson requesting additional information regarding his interaction with Ms. Isom-Cyrus. Mr. Sanderson failed to respond to the request. Accordingly, on March 15, 2016, Bar Counsel wrote to Mr. Sanderson again and requested that he provide the additional information requested in the prior correspondence. On April 27, 2016, Mr. Sanderson contacted Bar Counsel and requested an extension of time to provide the information. However, Mr. Sanderson ultimately did not comply with this extension and he failed to respond to Bar Counsel's communication. Therefore, on June 15, 2017 Bar Counsel wrote to Mr. Sanderson again requesting that he provide additional information within ten days. Again, Mr. Sanderson failed to respond, and on July 10 Bar Counsel re-issued the prior communication requesting a response. On July 17 Mr. Sanderson responded to Bar Counsel's request and reiterated that he did not use any vulgarities towards Ms. Isom-Cyrus.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In attorney discipline proceedings, this Court reviews the hearing judge's findings of fact for clear error and reviews the hearing judge's conclusions of law without deference. See Md. Rule 19-741(b) (indicating that, in reviewing the hearing judge's findings of fact, this "Court shall give due regard to the opportunity of the hearing judge to assess the credibility of witnesses[, ]" but where this Court reviews the hearing judge's conclusions of law, the de novo standard applies.). See also Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Maldonado, 463 Md. 11, 32-33 (2019); Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Ghatt, 461 Md. 228, 261 (2018). In cases where either party files exceptions to the hearing judge's findings of fact, this Court must determine whether the factual findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence. Md. Rule 19-741(b)(2)(B); Md. Rule 19-727(c). In addition, "Bar Counsel has the burden of proving the averments of the petition by clear and convincing evidence." Md. Rule 19-727(c).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Exceptions to the Hearing Judge's Findings of Fact

         Mr. Sanderson notes several exceptions to the hearing judge's findings of fact. Specifically, Mr. Sanderson takes exception to the hearing judge's findings regarding the impetus for his entry into the CDA with Bar Counsel and the balance due to Ms. Ozel stemming from Mr. Sanderson's representation of her in the personal injury action.

         With regard to the first exception, Mr. Sanderson contends that the hearing judge improperly determined that he entered into the CDA with Bar Counsel because of his failure to provide competent representation to Mr. Odubanjo. Instead, Mr. Sanderson represents that he entered into the CDA primarily due to Bar Counsel's concerns over the management and oversight of his law practice. However, there is little merit to Mr. Sanderson's exception. The CDA itself is included in the record and sets forth the circumstances surrounding Mr. Sanderson's entry into the CDA. The document provides the following summary of events which led to Mr. Sanderson's first encounter with Bar Counsel and ultimately his entry into the CDA:

In his representation of Olugboyega O. Odubanjo, the Respondent failed to provide competent representation. Specifically, he failed to appear at trial on a motor vehicle matter on behalf of his client, Mr. Odubanjo, in the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery County before the Honorable Patricia Mitchell. Mr. Odubanjo was charged with three (3) incarcerable traffic violations. At the time Mr. Odubanjo retained [Mr. Sanderson], [Mr. Sanderson] was aware that he would be unable to appear at Mr. Odubanjo's scheduled hearing due to a conflict in which he had a court appearance on a separate client matter. [Mr. Sanderson] assumed that a continuance of the hearing would be granted by the court. [Mr. Sanderson] filed a motion for continuance the day before Mr. Odubanjo's hearing, which was denied by the court. Subsequently, [Mr. Sanderson] did not appear at Mr. Odubanjo's hearing. Mr. Odubanjo terminated [Mr. Sanderson's] representation. No refund was rendered to Mr. Odubanjo since he had not yet paid [Mr. Sanderson's] attorney's fee.

         The CDA additionally indicates that Mr. Sanderson's conduct constituted a violation MLRPC 1.1 and that "[b]y signing this Agreement, [Mr. Sanderson] acknowledges that he has engaged in conduct that constitutes professional misconduct and warrants that he has not concealed from or misrepresented to Bar Counsel any material facts pertaining to his conduct or to the Agreement." Id.

         Therefore, the agreement clearly indicates that Mr. Sanderson's entry into the CDA was compelled by his representation of Mr. Odubanjo which ran afoul of MLRPC 1.1. Mr. Sanderson's exception to this particular finding is driven by a piecemeal review of the agreement and, to some extent, a mischaracterization of its contents. In particular, paragraph six of the agreement summarizes Mr. Sanderson's admissions with respect to the complaint originating from his representation of Mr. Odubanjo. It provides that Mr. Sanderson did not maintain a written calendar system and "did not have any training in law practice [management]." Id. Therefore, although Mr. Sanderson's entry into the CDA was in part caused by Bar Counsel's concerns over Mr. Sanderson's office procedures, these concerns became known to Bar Counsel through investigation of Mr. Sanderson's competency, or lack thereof, during his representation of Mr. Odubanjo.

         Accordingly, we determine that the hearing judge did not err in determining the catalyst of Mr. Sanderson's entry into the CDA with Bar Counsel. The agreement itself indicates that, although Mr. Sanderson failed to establish sufficient management and oversight procedures within his legal practice, the primary causal thrust for Bar Counsel's initial investigation of Mr. Sanderson, which led to his eventual entry into the CDA, was Mr. Sanderson's representation of Mr. Odubanjo. Accordingly, Mr. Sanderson's exception as to this finding is without merit and therefore overruled.

         Next, both Mr. Sanderson and Bar Counsel take exception to the hearing judge's finding regarding the total amount due to Ms. Ozel and the number of payments Mr. Sanderson made to her. First, the hearing judge found that the total amount due to Ms. Ozel was $6, 900 rather than $4, 900. Before this Court, both Bar Counsel and Mr. Sanderson contend that the amount due to Ms. Ozel was actually $4, 900, instead of $6, 900. In his opinion, Judge Nugent found that "[i]n late July 2016, [Mr. Sanderson] provided Ms. Ozel with an additional $2, 000.00[.]" (emphasis added). However, Ms. Ozel's testimony reflects that she only received two payments from Mr. Sanderson - one check for $2, 000 in late July and another for $2, 900 on December 12, 2016.

         During the hearing, Ms. Ozel also testified that, although Mr. Sanderson neglected to discuss his fee with her in great detail, she understood that he would receive $2, 000 from the settlement. Similarly, Mr. Sanderson agrees that the total amount owed to Ms. Ozel was $4, 900. Although the settlement check from USAA General Indemnity Company ("USAA") was made payable to both Ms. Ozel and Mr. Sanderson, was for $6, 900 the record indicates that $2, 000 of the sum constituted Mr. Sanderson's fee and Ms. Ozel was only entitled to recover $4, 900. Therefore, the hearing judge clearly erred with respect to the amount of money due to Ms. Ozel, and we therefore sustain this exception.

         Another related exception involves the balance in Mr. Sanderson's escrow account during the period surrounding his receipt of funds from USAA and their disbursement. Mr. Sanderson argues that the hearing judge erred in finding that, two days after receiving the settlement check from USAA, Mr. Sanderson transferred $500 from the escrow account to his business account which brought the balance below the amount owed to Ms. Ozel. However, this is primarily based on and related to the hearing judge's error regarding the total amount of funds Mr. Sanderson owed to Ms. Ozel.

         As mentioned above, Mr. Sanderson received the $6, 900 settlement check from USAA on July 18, 2016 and deposited it into his attorney trust account. The next day, Mr. Sanderson transferred $2, 000 of the settlement funds to his operating account. On July 20, Mr. Sanderson withdrew a second $2, 000 from the trust account, with the memo "Garland Atty[.]" Based on the record before us, it is unclear as to which payment eventually made its way to Ms. Ozel, but we presume the transfer of funds on July 19 was likely associated with Mr. Sanderson's fee. Therefore, the $2, 000 withdrawal the following day was likely Mr. Sanderson disbursing a portion of the settlement to Ms. Ozel.[9] After this withdrawal, his attorney trust account held $2, 905.00.

         Also, on July 20, Mr. Sanderson transferred $500 from the account to his business operating account. As a result, the balance in his attorney trust account dropped to $2, 405.00, $495 less than the amount Mr. Sanderson owed to Ms. Ozel at the time. In fact, the balance remained below $2, 900 until July 27, 2016, when Mr. Sanderson deposited $700 under Ms. Ozel's client name without any descriptive phrase or words in the memo line, which brought the attorney trust account's balance up to $2, 905.

         Ultimately, this surplusage of funds was short lived, because on August 4, 2016, Mr. Sanderson transferred $250 from his attorney trust account to his operating account, again under the client name of Ms. Ozel, but neglected to provide any indication as to its purpose. At this point, the balance in his attorney trust account fell to $2, 605, leaving the trust account underfunded with respect to the amount that Mr. Sanderson still owed Ms. Ozel. This pattern continued until Mr. Sanderson ultimately paid Ms. Ozel the $2, 900 over four months later on December 12, 2016. In the interim, Mr. Sanderson would routinely receive client funds, withdraw or transfer portions of it, and allow the attorney trust account to become underfunded, with the account holding as little as $5 on September 26, 2016 and as much as $44, 759.55 on December 1, 2016. Although the hearing Judge erred with respect to the total amount Mr. Sanderson owed to Ms. Ozel, he correctly identified that Mr. Sanderson's attorney trust account became underfunded, with respect to the amount that he owed Ms. Ozel, on the same day that Mr. Sanderson disbursed $2, 000 to Ms. Ozel. Accordingly, we overrule this exception.

         Next, Mr. Sanderson takes exception to the hearing judge's factual findings concerning potential misappropriation of funds from his former client, Ms. Brown. With reference to a monetary exchange between Mr. Sanderson and Ms. Brown, the hearing judge found Mr. Sanderson deposited a settlement check from the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund ("MAIF") in the amount of $8, 601.88 into his attorney trust account on June 28, 2016 which is adequately supported by the record. However, the same cannot be said for the hearing judge's ultimate determination regarding Mr. Sanderson misappropriating funds from Ms. Brown. The hearing judge found that, two days after the check was deposited, Mr. Sanderson withdrew $8, 101.88 on June 30, 2016 and that "there is no evidence that payment was ever made to Ms. Brown." However, the hearing judge's finding is problematic in two respects.

         First, in the initial complaint, Bar Counsel failed to raise any averments regarding Mr. Sanderson's potential misappropriation of funds from Ms. Brown. In fact, the only reference to Ms. Brown within the initial Petition is paragraph 53, which indicates that Mr. Sanderson provided a waiver of conflict agreement with regards to his representation of Ms. Brown. Aside from this, any allegations of misconduct regarding his representation of Ms. Brown are completely absent from the Petition. Previously, this Court has recognized that a hearing judge's findings must be appropriately limited to charges filed by Bar Counsel through the Petition. Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Seiden, 373 Md. 409, 418-19 (2003); Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Monfried, 368 Md. 373, 378-79 n. 7 (2002) (citing In re Ruffalo, 390 U.S. 544, 551 (1968)). Therefore, the hearing judge erred with respect to this determination. The purpose of limiting the hearing judge's findings to allegations contained within the complaint stems from procedural due process concerns. In re Ruffalo, 390 U.S. at 550. Particularly, this procedure is intended to ensure that an attorney is given fair notice of all of the charges filed against the attorney. Id.

         In the instant grievance proceedings, Bar Counsel's Petition lacked any corresponding allegations of disciplinary action with respect to Mr. Sanderson's representation of Ms. Brown, and therefore, Mr. Sanderson was not adequately notified of the charges against him. Moreover, the finding is not sufficiently supported by the record. Although the records associated with Mr. Sanderson's attorney trust account do not indicate that the withdrawal made on June 30, 2016 was given to Ms. Brown, during Bar Counsel's deposition of Mr. Sanderson, he stated under oath that Ms. Brown accompanied him to the bank and received the payment upon withdrawal, because she did not hold a checking account. He also indicated that the $500 discrepancy between the amount of the MAIF check and the withdrawal on June 30, 2016 corresponded to his fee in the matter. Id. In contrast, Bar Counsel failed to offer evidence, aside from copies of ledgers associated with Mr. Sanderson's attorney trust account, which demonstrates that Mr. Sanderson misappropriated funds from Ms. Brown. Accordingly, we sustain Mr. Sanderson's exception to this finding.

         Lastly, Mr. Sanderson takes exception to the hearing judge's finding of fact emanating from his representation of Ms. Ozel. More specifically, he asserts that he did not promptly disburse $2, 900 of settlement funds to her because he was in the process of settling a "boni [sic] fide lien from the Worker's Compensation fund[.]" In support of his position, Mr. Sanderson attaches to his exceptions a purported email from an individual associated with Chesapeake Employers Insurance Company. In this email, dated March 12, 2018, the individual represents to Mr. Sanderson that the insurance company should have recovered $1, 437.10 from "[his] client[, ]" but the organization allowed the client to retain the funds. However, there are several problems associated with this exhibit.

         First, the email does not indicate that the communication is in reference to Mr. Sanderson's representation of Ms. Ozel. In all actuality, the email does not identify Ms. Ozel by name. The only potentially identifying information contained within the correspondence are usage of female pronouns in reference to the client and reference to one of Mr. Sanderson's clients receiving a third-party settlement in the amount of $6, 900.00. The link between this email and Mr. Sanderson's representation of Ms. Ozel without more identifying information is tenuous. Nevertheless, other circumstances surrounding this email and Mr. Sanderson's eventual payment to Ms. Ozel render unnecessary any further inquiry into this issue.

         Although Mr. Sanderson submits that his payment to Ms. Ozel was significantly delayed due to the potential worker's compensation lien, the exhibit he provided and the associated timelines clearly demonstration that his contention is without merit. Particularly troubling, the email from Chesapeake Employers Insurance Company is dated March 12, 2018. However, Mr. Sanderson did not disburse the remaining $2, 900 to Ms. Ozel until December 12, 2018. In the email, an employee of the insurance company informed Mr. Sanderson that Ms. Ozel will be able to retain the funds which, prior to this point, a question remained as to whether they would be subject to Injured Worker's Insurance Fund ("IWIF") withholding. Therefore, based on Mr. Sanderson's own exhibit, he received notice that there would be no withholding associated with Ms. Ozel's claim nine months before eventually releasing the funds to his client. Despite Mr. Sanderson's insistence that he had "a legitimate reason for not promptly dispersing [sic] the $2, 900 in settlement funds to Ms. Ozel[, ]" whatever legitimacy can be attributed to that reason ceased at some point after March 12, 2018. Mr. Sanderson offers no explanation for the nine-month delay in providing the funds to Ms. Ozel. Therefore, on this basis, we cannot conclude that the hearing judge clearly erred with respect to this finding. Accordingly, we overrule this exception.

         B. Review of the Hearing Judge's Conclusions of Law

         In addition to Mr. Sanderson's exception to the hearing judge's findings of fact, he also takes exception to several of the hearing judge's conclusions of law. Specifically, Mr. Sanderson takes exception to the hearing judge's conclusions that he violated: (i) MLRPC 1.1 in BC Docket No. 2012-297-04-14 by failing to provide competent representation to Mr. Odubanjo; (ii) MLRPC 1.1 in BC Docket No. 2017-0152 by failing to provide Ms. Ozel with competent representation; and (iii) MLRPC 1.2 by failing to recognize the scope of representation and the allocation of decision-making authority between attorneys and their clients.

         In terms of exceptions to the hearing judge's conclusions of law, Mr. Sanderson first takes exception to several of the hearing judge's evidentiary rulings. Mr. Sanderson argues that the hearing judge erred when he permitted several pieces of evidence to be admitted, because the exhibits lacked appropriate evidentiary foundations. The records Mr. Sanderson contends were erroneously admitted by the hearing judge include: (i) bank records; (ii) communications from the Attorney Grievance Commission to Mr. Sanderson; and (iii) complaints from the Attorney Grievance Commission. In addition, Mr. Sanderson argues that the hearing judge erred in admitting records and testimony provided by Mr. Miller, because he was not properly qualified as an expert witness.

         Mr. Sanderson first takes issue with the hearing judge's admittance of bank records that the Attorney Grievance Commission acquired from Wells Fargo through subpoena. In his exceptions filed with this Court, Mr. Sanderson fails to identify any specific basis upon which he takes exception to this evidentiary ruling. However, at the hearing, Mr. Sanderson objected to the introduction of the Wells Fargo Bank records on grounds that he was not informed of ...


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