Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Maryland Court of Appeals opinion which disbarred a lawyer for, inter alia, engaging in a pattern of mismanaging client trust funds and other trust account violations, failing to appear in court on behalf of several clients, failing to respond to requests by both Bar Counsel and clients, urging a former client to provide Bar Counsel with false information in attempt to interfere with the investigation, failing to adequately communicate with clients, and calling a non-client witness a “baby-snatching bitch”. The case is Attorney Grievance Commission v. Garland Montgomery Jarrat Sanderson, Case No. 24-C-18-002381 AG, and the July 23, 2019 opinion is here: https://www.courts.state.md.us/data/opinions/coa/2019/3a18ag.pdf
In the very long opinion, the court addressed the substantive issues, evidence, Bar rule violation, and aggravating and mitigating factors and disbarred the lawyer. With regard to the disparaging remarks to the non-client witness, in November 2015, the lawyer was representing the parent of a child in a case involving CINA (Children in Need of Assistance). At a hearing in the case, a social worker for the Baltimore County Department of Social Services provided testimony.
After the hearing, the lawyer approached the social worker in the hallway outside the courtroom and there was testimony that the lawyer and the social worker had a brief but heated exchange of words that ended with the lawyer calling the social worker a “bitch.” The social worker testified at the disciplinary hearing that the lawyer actually referred to her as a “baby-snatching bitch.”
The opinion upheld the disciplinary judge’s finding that, in using the disparaging language, the lawyer violated Rule 8.4(e) of the Maryland Lawyer’s Rules of Professional Conduct. That rule prohibits attorneys from, either by words or conduct, expressing bias or prejudice when acting in the lawyer’s professional capacity, including discrimination based on race, sex, religion, disability, age, or sexual orientation. The judge in the disciplinary matter concluded that the lawyer violated Rule 8.4(e) in his exchange with the social worker because his remarks were disparaging.
The lawyer argued the word’s widespread use in hip-hop music made the use of the term alone insufficient to support a violation of the rule of professional conduct and that, in some instances, the word “bitch” actually implied a level of respect. The court rejected that argument out of hand and stated that the lawyer’s language “in no way demonstrated any such level of respect.”
Bottom line: This disbarment was a result of the lawyer’s multiple egregious violations of Maryland Bar rules and it is clear that this court (and most likely other courts) will not tolerate the use of such disparaging language while the lawyer is acting in the capacity of a lawyer. Not sure what this lawyer was thinking (or not thinking)…
Be careful out there.
My law firm focuses on review, analysis, and interpretation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, advice and representation of lawyers in Bar disciplinary matters, advice and representation of applicants for admission to The Florida Bar before the Board of Bar Examiners, defense of all Florida licensed professionals in discipline and admission matters before all state agencies and boards, expert ethics opinions, and practice management for lawyers and law firms. If there is a lawyer or other Florida professional license involved, I can defend the complaint or help you get your license.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
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