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.
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,
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.
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,
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; 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.
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.
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.
summarize the hearing judge's findings of fact and the
record submitted at the attorney grievance hearing as
Sanderson's Legal Practice
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").
Counsel Docket No. 2013-297-04-14
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
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.
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. 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."
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.
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.
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
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. 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
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.
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.
Counsel Docket No. 2017-0152
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.
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
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Docket No. 2016-1374
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.
22, 2011, Mr. Sangare remarried.  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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Docket No. 2015-2413
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
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.
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
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
Exceptions to the Hearing Judge's Findings of
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.
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]
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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. After this withdrawal, his attorney trust
account held $2, 905.00.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Review of the Hearing Judge's Conclusions of Law
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
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.
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 ...