Attorney Grievance Commission Cites Criminal Defense Attorney For “Wrongfully and Improperly” Revealing Confidential Client Information
The Associated Press reported late last week that the Maryland Attorney Grievance Committee indefinitely suspended the law license of Baltimore County criminal defense attorney Larry Feldman in connection with a case where his client was murdered in a murder-for-hire plot. Feldman’s indefinite suspension was effective January 31, 2015.
Feldman represented Isiah Callaway in a 2010 check fraud investigation. At some point, during the representation, federal prosecutors wanted to speak to Callaway about the check fraud scheme. Feldman then inadvertently told Tavon Davis, a suspect in the same check fraud scheme, that prosecutors wanted to speak with his client Callaway. Davis in turn hired a hit man for $2,000 to kill Callaway. Davis has since been convicted on charges stemming from the murder-for-hire plot and is serving a 35 year prison sentence. According to documents filed with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission, Davis had previously hired Feldman to represent Callaway and Davis and Callaway referred to each other as “brothers.” These filings also stated that Feldman did not know Davis was also a suspect in the check fraud scheme at the time of the improper disclosure. The AP further reported that on at least one occasion, Callaway insisted that Davis sat in on an attorney-client meeting.
The indefinite suspension was imposed by settlement agreement with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission. The agreement states Feldman, “wrongfully and improperly concluded that he was authorized to speak with Davis” about his client’s case. Such harsh sanctions are unusual for Maryland attorneys. The Baltimore Sun reported that the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission receives about 1,900 complaints a year, yet in 2014 only 87 attorneys were sanctioned. Of those 87 attorneys sanctioned, only 26 were disbarred from the practice of law.
The Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct regulate lawyers who are admitted to practice in Maryland state courts. The Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers are codified at Rule 16-812 of Title 16 (Courts, Judges, and Attorneys) of the Maryland Rules. Maryland Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6 governs the Confidentiality of Attorney-Client information. In pertinent part, Rule 1.6 states “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent. . .” Moreover, Rule 1.7, which governs Conflicts of Interest, has been interpreted to contain an “implied duty of loyalty.” In fact, in the comments section of Rule 1.7, it states “Loyalty and independent judgment are essential elements in the lawyer’s relationship to a client.”
When a complaint is filed with the Attorney Grievance Commission in Maryland, it is referred to Bar Counsel who investigates the complaint. Bar counsel may:
Dismiss the complaint if it lacks merit,
Recommend to the Commission a Conditional Diversion Agreement signed by Bar Counsel and the attorney,
Recommend to the Commission a reprimand,
Refer the matter to a 3-attorney panel “Peer Review Committee,” or
Recommend to the Commission the immediate filing of a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action.
If the attorney and Bar Counsel then reach an agreement the Peer Review Panel transmits the agreement to the Commission. If there is no agreement reached, the Peer Review Committee may dismiss the complaint without discipline, dismiss the complaint with a warning, issue a reprimand, or file a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action. The Commission then may: (1) direct Bar Counsel to file a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action, (2) take any action on the Peer Review Committee’s recommendation allowed under the rules, or (3) dismiss the complaint and terminate the proceeding.
If the complaint is not dismissed or resolved by agreement, Bar Counsel may refer the matter for formal proceedings to the Maryland Court of Appeals for disciplinary or remedial action. The Court of Appeals will appoint a Maryland Circuit Court Judge to conduct an evidentiary hearing and to facilitate discovery. The Circuit Judge will decide by a preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not, whether or not the attorney violated the rules of professional conduct. The Court of Appeals ultimately has the authority to resolve the complaint and can disbar the attorney, dismiss the complaint, reprimand the attorney, suspend the attorney for a specified period of time, place the attorney on inactive status, or remand the case for further proceedings.
Any attorney who faces proceedings before Maryland Bar Counsel should consider hiring an attorney well versed in the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct and attorney ethics to represent him or her in an Attorney Grievance Commission proceeding.