Estates & Trusts Program on Ethics for Personal Representatives, Attorneys Held Audience Spellbound

Lydia Lawless, Associate Bar Counsel for the Attorney Grievance Commission, captivated the nearly 20 attendees on November 13th with the facts from recent cases involving dismissal or reprimand of lawyers practicing in the area of estates and trusts. Despite the wintry weather developing late afternoon, Ms. Lawless graciously stayed beyond the designated hour to answer many questions. She explained some of the provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct by sharing the “do’s and don’ts” based on actual cases.

Ms. Lawless indicated that although her office cannot give legal advice, they welcome inquiries from attorneys and will assist by discussing relevant hypothetical legal situations. She also pointed out that a significant role of the Attorney Grievance Commission is to protect lawyers from frivolous complaints.

She briefly explained the Picture14procedure when a complaint is filed with the Commission. Bar Counsel and staff investigate potential misconduct, and have the authority to issue investigative subpoenas for records, documents and witnesses. After an investigation is complete, the complaint can be dismissed with or without a warning, a Commission reprimand (with the consent of the attorney respondent) can be issued or a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action may be filed in the Court of Appeals.  Alternatively, Bar Counsel and the attorney respondent may enter into a Conditional Diversion Agreement.  If a Petition is filed by Bar Counsel in the Court of Appeals, which has exclusive jurisdiction over attorney licensing in Maryland. The matter is then referred for a hearing in any Circuit Court, which must make findings of fact and conclusions of law. The parties may file exceptions to the factual findings.

Based on the Circuit Court’s decision, Bar Counsel then makes a recommendation of the appropriate sanction to the Court of Appeals The Court of Appeals hears oral arguments before issuing a written Opinion. Under the standard of review, the Court of Appeals will not disturb the Circuit Court’s findings of fact unless the Court determines them to be clearly erroneous; the conclusions of law are reviewed de novo. In Attorney Grievance Commission v. Michael C. Hodes, the Court of Appeals issued a rare Per Curium Order disbarring Mr. Hodes the day of oral argument.  A written opinion will follow.   As Assistant Bar Counsel, Ms. Lawless second-chaired the Hodes case and shared with the audience the facts in the case.

 A special thank you to Ms. Lawless for a very interesting presentation and to Tucker & Meltzer, Valuation Advisors, for their sponsorship and delicious refreshments.

The committee’s next program on the Maryland Estate Tax will be held December 11, 2014.