Attorney Grievance Comm'n of Md. v. Lang, Misc. AG No. 86, Sept. Term, 2016

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Citation461 Md. 1,191 A.3d 474
Docket NumberMisc. AG No. 86, Sept. Term, 2016
Parties ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION of Maryland v. Steven Anthony LANG & Olayemi Isaac Falusi
Decision Date16 August 2018

461 Md. 1
191 A.3d 474

Steven Anthony LANG & Olayemi Isaac Falusi

Misc. AG No. 86, Sept. Term, 2016

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

August 16, 2018

Argued by Ebtehaj Kalantar, Asst. Bar Counsel (Lydia E. Lawless, Bar Counsel, Atty. Grievance Commission of Maryland), for Petitioner.

Argued by Steven Anthony Lang (Chicago, IL), John O. Iweanoge, Esquire (The Iweanoge Firm, Washington, DC), for Respondents.

Argued Before Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, JJ.

Opinion by Barbera, C.J.

461 Md. 10
191 A.3d 480

On January 30, 2017, Petitioner, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, acting through Bar Counsel, filed in this Court a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action ("Petition") against Respondents Steven Anthony Lang and Olayemi Isaac Falusi. From November 2012 to February 2014, Mr. Lang and Mr. Falusi were partners in Lang & Falusi, LLP.

As for Mr. Lang, the Petition alleged violations of the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct1 ("MLRPC") 1.1 (Competence), 1.2 (Scope of Representation), 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4(a) and (b) (Communication), 1.5(a) (Fees),

461 Md. 11

1.15(a) and (c) (Safekeeping Property), 1.16(d) (Declining or Terminating Representation), 3.3 (Candor Toward the Tribunal), 5.5(a) (Unauthorized Practice of Law; Multijurisdictional Practice of Law), 7.1(a) (Communications Concerning a Lawyer's Services), 7.5(a) (Firm Names and Letterheads), 8.1(a) and (b) (Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters), and 8.4(a), (c), and (d) (Misconduct). The Petition also alleged that Mr. Lang violated Maryland Rules 16-603 (Duty to maintain account), 16-604 (Trust account — Required deposits), and 16-606.1 (Attorney trust account record-keeping).2

The Petition alleged that Mr. Falusi violated MLRPC 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4(a) and (b), 1.5(a), 1.15(a) and (c), 1.16(d), 3.3, 5.5(a) and (b), 7.1(a), 7.5(a), 8.1(a) and (b), and 8.4(a), (b), (c), and (d). As with Mr. Lang, the Petition also alleged violations of Maryland Rules 16-603, 16-604, and 16-606.1. Finally, the Petition alleged that Mr. Falusi violated Maryland Code Annotated, Business Occupations & Professions ("BOP") § 10-601 (Bar admission required to practice law in the State).

These violations stemmed from Respondents' conduct as partners of Lang & Falusi, LLP; their representation of multiple clients; Mr. Falusi's application to the Bar of Maryland; and Bar Counsel's investigation of Respondents.

This Court transmitted the matter to the Circuit Court for Prince George's County and designated the Honorable Robin D. Gill Bright ("the hearing judge") to conduct an evidentiary hearing and make findings of fact and conclusions of law. Respondents filed timely responses to the Petition, and an evidentiary hearing took place on November 6 and 8, 2017. At the hearing, the judge heard testimony from Respondents and four witnesses, one of whom testified by way of a video deposition.

Upon considering the hearing judge's findings of fact and conclusions of law and independently reviewing the record, we

461 Md. 12

adopt in large part the hearing judge's proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Based on the rule violations we have determined the Respondents committed, as well as aggravating and mitigating factors we have identified, we indefinitely suspend both Respondents.


The Hearing Judge's Findings of Fact

We summarize here the findings of fact made by the hearing judge, supported by clear and convincing evidence.

191 A.3d 481


Mr. Lang was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 2010 and the Maryland Bar in 2012. Mr. Falusi was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 2009 and, after applying in 2011, was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 2016. In November 2012, Mr. Falusi registered a limited liability partnership named "Lang & Falusi, LLP" ("the Firm") with the Maryland State Department of Assessments & Taxation ("SDAT"). The partnership was created to provide professional legal services. The Firm's principal office was listed as an address in Silver Spring, Maryland, but it operated out of an office in Lanham, Maryland. The two initially arranged to share office space and expenses but to maintain their own separate practices, with Mr. Lang practicing criminal law and Mr. Falusi practicing immigration law.

From January 2013 to December 2013, Mr. Lang and Mr. Falusi occupied the Lanham office. The Firm's letterhead listed the Lanham address, a website, and phone and fax numbers. The letterhead also included a legend with two symbols—one was labeled "†† Barred in Maryland and Massachusetts" and the other "† Barred in Massachusetts"—but neither symbol appeared next to a name, and thus the symbols did not indicate to which attorney they applied. Respondents also maintained a website for the Firm, which advertised the Firm's attorneys and listed the services they offered. The website provided:

461 Md. 13
Attorney Falusi represents clients in various areas of law, and due to his unique background, his case dockets are overwhelmingly on immigration law and criminal defense. He has successfully handled countless family-based immigration visas, change of status, and adjustment of status. He also handles political asylum, employment based visas, as domestic/VAWA matters. Moreover, his experience as a criminal defense attorney and a former prosecutor has served many of his clients prudently. Mr. Falusi is a member of the Bar of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the United States District Court, First Circuit.

A separate page on the Firm's website, "Areas of Practice," listed various areas in which the Firm's attorneys practiced, including "Product Liability/Warranties, Federal Criminal defense, Malpractice, Immigration, Bankruptcy, Criminal law, Business Law, Contract Law, [and] Family Law (Divorce, Custody, Asset Conservation, Support Modification)." The description, however, did not specify which attorney practiced in which areas. A layperson may have surmised that Mr. Falusi was a Maryland attorney who focused on immigration matters rather than an attorney whose practice was limited to immigration matters (as he was not yet admitted in Maryland).

On February 4, 2014, Mr. Falusi filed a Withdrawal of Limited Liability Registration with SDAT, dissolving the Firm.

Lang & Falusi, LLP's PNC Bank Operating Account

Neither of the Respondents ever established an attorney trust account for the Firm. Instead, they used a bank account at PNC Bank (the "Operating Account"), which was established and managed by Mr. Falusi. Bank statements from that account and two transaction summaries prepared by Bar Counsel were admitted into evidence. Relevant here, those records showed various deposits from the Operating Account for legal services, which included several checks with no reference in the memo line and other checks for "legal work," "legal fee," and "attorney fees." In addition, a $4,000.00 check made payable to Diane Holder and Lang & Falusi, LLP

191 A.3d 482


461 Md. 14

deposited into the Operating Account for Mr. Falusi's representation of Ms. Holder in a Massachusetts personal injury case. A check for $2,500.00 was disbursed from the Operating Account to Ms. Holder and referenced "case settlement" in the memo line. The hearing judge further found:

On November 18, 2013, Respondent Falusi deposited check # 6619823 for Eight Thousand and 00/100 Dollars ($8,000) from USAA Casualty Insurance Company, payable to Lang & Falusi, LLP and a third party, Olivia Lang. Respondent Lang handled a personal injury case for his daughter, Olivia [ ] Lang, and provided legal representation in connection with the settlement. Respondent Lang received check # 147 for One Thousand and 00/100 Dollars ($1,000) for "legal work done" on November 19, 2013. On November 21, 2013, check # 146 for Six Thousand and 00/100 Dollars ($6,000) was disbursed from the Operating Account to Olivia Lang.

Representation of Abby Daramola

In November 2010, Deeds Realty Services ("Deeds Realty") filed a complaint against Abby Daramola in the District Court of Maryland sitting in Baltimore City. Deeds Realty claimed that Ms. Daramola wrote a bad check, in the amount of $6,000.00, due to insufficient funds. On March 4, 2011, Deeds Realty won an affidavit judgment against Ms. Daramola for $6,035.00. When she failed to make a payment on the judgment, Deeds Realty asked the court to direct her to appear for an oral examination. The first oral examination was held in February 2012, but it was not completed and was rescheduled. Ms. Daramola failed to appear at the second oral examination, and the court issued an order to show cause. After Ms. Daramola did not...

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