I wasn’t going to do it. I wasn’t going to write about the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission again until after the conclusion of whatever it is that they are or aren’t going to do about the complaints I filed with them in early May of this year against some attorneys. In the blog post before this one, I discussed the AGC and the Office of Bar Counsel as it relates to the complaint process, and it was really because I become fascinated with the process and rules because I’m involved in it myself. In that post, I indicated that I was doing a Maryland Public Information Act request to see what I could learn about their policies and procedures that apply to the complaint process. And then, I received some information about 20 other people having problems with them.
For the longest time, I didn’t really consider this blog to be a media source for reporting. It started as a way for me to share my experiences that I was having with various Maryland government departments and agencies as I tried to make sense of things and how they really work. Admittedly, my assumption that government operates for the benefit of its citizens (taught to me by the U.S. public education system and the textbooks that state government approved to be used as an instruction manual) was highly effective in keeping me naïve to the possibility that it might operate any other way. I had to consult Google for the Merriam-Webster definition of government before sketching out this post, and found this one: “the complex of political institutions, laws, and customs through which the function of governing is carried out.” But I also found this one, and like it better: “the group of people who control and make decisions for a country, state, etc.” No where in there does it actual state that it’s for the citizens, though one definition mentioned “..direction and supervision of public affairs.”
Maybe that’s where a bunch of us have been badly misled and misinformed. Maybe you’re going to find that you were too.
To summarize and bring you up to speed, complaints were filed against 2 attorneys and multiple allegations were made against them that ranged from making false statements to the federal court, failing to accurately list all of client’s assets on Bankruptcy Schedules (much like the AGC case of Stephen Jerome Williams), failing to do proper due diligence prior to filing things in federal court which led to a waste of judicial time and money, and more. Within two weeks, I received copies of TWO letters from the AGC’s Office of Bar Counsel that were sent to the attorneys asking them to respond to my complaints.
TWO file numbers were issued by the Office of Bar Counsel, which would be correct since there were TWO complaints made by me concerning TWO attorneys. See for yourself:0950
Received by me in the mail from Bar Counsel was ONE letter addressed to me that contained BOTH of the attorney names and file numbers. In the letter, the staff attorney handling the matter wrote that she had enclosed a copy of the response of ONE of the attorneys “..to your complaint against him and ..”. She requested that I review the material and give any written comments within 10 days. The letter to me had a “cc” at the bottom to just the ONE attorney. Sure enough, enclosed with the Bar Counsel’s letter was ONE letter from ONE attorney that was signed by the ONE attorney.
Now, it’s been a while since I’ve had any of those Howard County Public School math classes, but I DO know the difference between one/two complaints and ONE response. I can also read and comprehend really well, and understand implications.
I phone the Attorney Grievance Commission and asked where the attachment was that was referenced in the attorney’s letter when he wrote, “..as indicated in the attached copy of the docket..”. When I was asked for the File Number, I had to admit to the woman who answered the phone that I was at a loss for which one she wanted. That was primarily because attorney ONE referenced the one file number that didn’t actually belong to the complaint file on HIM. (i.e, he wrote a letter to Bar Counsel that was responsive to the complaint file that was for a different attorney). The very helpful person at the AGC (you will learn shortly why I am writing this) was able to tell me that the ONE PAGE letter from the attorney was all that was scanned in (procedure for everything that comes in the front door, apparently). That would be ironic for an attorney who I’m complaining about to do such a snafu as leave out the attachment and evidence that they reference and want you to rely upon. Particularly since that was one of my complaints, but everyone has their own way.
I pressed further about the Bar Counsel’s bundling of the two complaint files together into ONE letter, and their insistence that I respond despite having only received a response from ONE (which I considered to be improper). It was then that I was told that the other attorney HAD actually written a letter also!
I’m going to interject an important piece into this story at this point, and I’ll have one more before this post will be complete. In 2007, the ABA Journal ran an article that had as its title “Md. Attorney Discipline Questioned, Decades of Data Disclosed”. It was written by Martha Neil, and the information for the story primarily came from the work and writing of Anju Kaur (then of the Capital News Service). Links to both stories are at the end of this post. Anju, who had her own escapades with getting information from the AGC but who compiled data ranging from 1930 to 2006 on attorney discipline in Maryland concluded that “less than a quarter of all complaints are investigated, nearly half of those investigated complaints are ‘closed administratively’ and about a third of the remaining [cases] received some kind of discipline.”
I don’t know what a third of a half of a quarter of complaints amounts to, but I’m guessing that it’s not much.
Back to my situation: I’m more than a little concerned that I had to point out to the Office of Bar Counsel that they hadn’t provided me with ALL of the information that they had received in response to my complaints. I would write “who in their right mind would respond to a request for comment when they haven’t been given all of the information”, but I’m sure that there are people who naively do. I’ve read enough stories about prosecutors to understand that they don’t always give you the information that they collect, and that they sometimes suppress evidence because they are out to prove their case no matter what.
But they’re supposed to work FIRST for the law, and second for the citizens (of which I am one). Or at least their site claims to be “dedicated to protecting the public and maintaining the integrity of the legal profession”. Maybe “integrity of the legal profession” means something different to others than it does to me?
Already therefore, it appears to me that Bar Counsel is possibly looking for ways to dispose of my complaints. Since the Attorney Grievance Commission’s official response to my Public Information Act request was that they do not have ANY MANUAL (despite their administrative guidelines stating that they were supposed to create one), it would be any citizen’s understandable conclusion that they are doing thing according to their personal whims over there. That goes for Bar Counsel too, who is supposed to also have a manual. In the same PIA response from Marianne Lee, who left the Office of Bar Counsel to take two steps to the left to be Exec Secretary to the AGC in July 2016, she said that Bar Counsel also has no manual. She should definitely know!
Maybe I nor anyone else should be surprised by this. They say you need to pay attention to who it is that butters your bread. In viewing the most recent financial statement of the AGC, I can see that out of the $4,508,308 of money brought in by them, $4,044,737 was paid by attorneys through their mandatory fee assessment. 40,707 attorneys assessed a $105 fee (not all paid it). When I look at their “Personnel Costs” of $2,801,306 and $173,165 for Office of Executive Secretary to see that almost 3 million worth of bread that matters most to the people anyone interfaces with there is being buttered SOLELY by other attorneys, well I’ll let the reader marinate on that for a while.
I received information that 20 sets of written correspondence were sent to Marianne Lee that complained about alleged harassment and misconduct of one of their own: Lydia Lawless. I decline to comment on the allegations that I’m aware of, because I think that the greater story for the moment is the extraordinary efforts that these people went through in order to let the AGC, its entire membership of commissioners, EVERY judge on the Maryland Court of Appeals, members of civic organizations, Attorney General Brian Frosh, select members of the Maryland General Assembly, and various online local “news” sources as well as the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, Examiner, and Times know about a problem they perceived.
20 people stuck out their necks to do what they thought was their obligation (and right). Believing that the AGC and Office of Bar Counsel would then do THEIR obligation to investigate the complaints, they waited. And waited. And waited. My understanding is that NOT ONE OF THEM received correspondence from Bar Counsel that the other attorney was being asked about her position on her conduct complained about, docketing it as a complaint, or blowing them off entirely. Though there is no manual to consult, it is Marianne Lee herself who instructed me to essentially GO TO THE MARYLAND RULES for my answers on how things are to be done there.
Well, I did, and they clearly have not.
Looking at the 41st Annual Report that is given to the people who they are accountable to (Maryland General Assembly and the public), I now question the accuracy of the information contained with the report. I don’t doubt that the number of disbarments and sanctions are correct, because that’s a reflection of the work that they’ve done which is HIGHLY CONSISTENT across 10 years. The fact that it is highly consistent is what’s suspect. The article I link to below shows that I’m not the only one who thinks that.
Waves of unethical behavior are in no way, shape or form CONSISTENT in numbers. Decisions made to prosecute and docket in the first place, however, can be made to be consistent. Decisions made to make things appear as you need them to… well, isn’t that the very defining characteristic of what an attorney is asked to do?
Perhaps this can all be explained away by some innocent “oops” of someone. In order for people to have faith in a system, they must be able to see transparently how it works. Attempts to block people from the very information that they must rely upon in order to make the best decisions for them, should always be revealed so that they have the best chance of getting changed. That does naturally assume that people who are running government entities intend to allow that transparency. But, I suppose that’s where the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence guide me:
From the Declaration of Independence: “We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
Does Maryland government entities work for its citizens, or does it work primarily for itself? Does the Attorney Grievance Commission work for the benefit of ALL of the public, or a select few based on some criteria that is repeatedly hidden in some shell-game that prevents true accountability?
*Note to the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, Washington Times and the Examiner: not sure WHY you wouldn’t have made some effort to report on this story. Was it not scandalous-enough of a story for you that 20 people made a complaint, the place that’s supposed to investigate EVERY complaint they get does nothing about it except promote the subject of the complaints to the top position of Bar Counsel, and now the question of WILL/HOW WILL the person who is the subject of the complaints do anything about them since they run the show?
Well, I did, and now I wrote the story. But please, feel free to use this baton that I’m passing to you in order to go further with it. And THAT’S why I now refer to this site as a media source! We all now know that media sometimes get threatened, and I have too as a result of my stories on Howard County (I know, the pillar of Choose Civility, and yes, I sent it to the FBI!). And here’s a picture of one of the two threatening comments that I got:
Yes, Washington Post, democracy DOES die in darkness! Sometimes, it’s because of the threats made against it. How about giving us some of your light?! (if it’s authorized to shine over here, is what many have asked/told me)
Here’s the AGC response letter to me:AGC response
One of the follow-up letters sent to the AGC regarding the status of their submission. The folks that I’ve talked to said that they are scared because of how they’ve already been treated in the entire process. Can’t say that I blame them for not wanting their names put out there:follow-up 1
Anju Kaur’s Story (we’ve talked, and she’s really great) is HERE
ABA Journal article by Martha Neil is HERE