Attorney Grievance Comm'n of Md. v. Edwards, Misc. Docket AG No. 16, Sept. Term, 2016

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtBarbera, C.J.
Citation462 Md. 642,202 A.3d 1200
Docket Number Misc. Docket AG No. 21, Sept. Term, 2017,Misc. Docket AG No. 16, Sept. Term, 2016
Decision Date26 February 2019

462 Md. 642
202 A.3d 1200

Christal Elizabeth EDWARDS

Misc. Docket AG No. 16, Sept. Term, 2016
Misc. Docket AG No. 21, Sept. Term, 2017

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

February 26, 2019

Argued by Jennifer L. Thompson, Assistant Bar Counsel (Lydia E. Lawless, Bar Counsel, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland), for Petitioner.

Argued by William C. Brennan, Jr. of Brenna, McKenna, Manzi, Shay, Chtd. (Greenbelt, MD) for Respondent.

Aegued before: Barbera, C.J., Greene, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, Sally D. Adkins (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.

Barbera, C.J.

462 Md. 651

Petitioner, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, acting through Bar Counsel, filed in this Court two Petitions for Disciplinary or Remedial Action against Respondent, Christal Elizabeth Edwards, regarding six separate complaints filed against her by former clients and a stenographer formerly employed by Respondent. Bar Counsel moved to

462 Md. 652

consolidate the two petitions and we granted that motion. The petitions allege violations of the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct1 ("MLRPC") 1.1 (Competence), 1.2 (Scope of Representation), 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4 (Communication), 1.5 (Fees), 1.15 (Safekeeping Property), 1.16 (Declining or Terminating Representation), 3.3(a) (Candor Toward the Tribunal), 3.4(c) (Fairness to Opposing Party and Counsel), 5.5(a) (Unauthorized Practice of Law; Multijurisdictional Practice of Law), 7.1(a) (Communications Concerning a Lawyer's Services), 8.1(b) (Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters), and 8.4(a), (c), and (d) (Misconduct).2

On June 29, 2016, this Court transmitted this matter to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County and designated the Honorable Nelson W. Rupp, Jr., ("the hearing judge") to conduct an evidentiary hearing and make findings of fact and conclusions of law. The hearing took place on February 20-23, 2018, and April 16, 2018. At the hearing, the judge heard testimony from Respondent and ten witnesses (seven for Petitioner and three for Respondent). The hearing judge precluded Respondent from introducing evidence regarding her record-keeping for two of her clients, as Respondent had failed to satisfy Bar Counsel's discovery request for those documents prior to the hearing.

We adopt in large part the hearing judge's proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Based on the rule violations that Respondent committed, as well as the aggravating and mitigating factors we have identified, we disbar Respondent.

462 Md. 653


The Hearing Judge's Findings of Fact

We summarize here the hearing judge's findings of fact, which are supported by clear and convincing evidence.

202 A.3d 1206


Respondent was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 2007 and the United States District Court for the District of Maryland in 2009. She was subsequently admitted to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in 2010 and the District of Columbia Bar in 2013. At all relevant times, Respondent maintained an office at 8403 Colesville Road, Suite 1100, Silver Spring, Maryland ("Colesville Road Office"). Respondent listed the Colesville Road Office with the Client Protection Fund of the Bar of Maryland. Respondent also currently maintains an office at 9701 Apollo Drive, Suite 301, Largo, Maryland ("Apollo Drive Office").

Respondent suffers from ulcerative colitis, which is a "chronic ulceration in the large intestine, characterized by painful abdominal cramps and profuse diarrhea containing pus, blood, and mucus." Ulcerative Colitis, []. Respondent was diagnosed in 1999 and testified that although the disease can be manageable, she occasionally experienced what she called "flare ups." These "flare ups" caused Respondent to be hospitalized six times between 2015-2016: (1) March 12-31, 2015; (2) August 27-30, 2015; (3) September 13-20, 2015; (4) October 11-16, 2015; (5) December 27-30, 2015; and (6) January 20-February 4, 2016. The hearing judge credited Respondent's claim that she received care through doctor visits and "two to three-hour ‘infusion appointments’ from October 6, 2011 through May 19, 2016."3

462 Md. 654

Representation of Rochell Richardson

In late January 2010, Rochell Richardson entered into a contract with Capitol Improvement Contractors, Inc. ("Capitol") to rehabilitate her family home. The contract was financed through a City of Baltimore ("City") " ‘203k’ home rehabilitation program" and required disputes under the contract to be resolved through arbitration "under the auspices of the Better Business Bureau, Inc."

Seven months later, after demolishing "substantial portions of the home," and causing the water in Ms. Richardson's home to run continuously, Capitol stopped working due to, what it called, "unforeseen conditions." As a result, Ms. Richardson filed a pro se complaint against Capitol with the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation ("DLLR"). The complaint alleged that Capitol had left Ms. Richardson's home unsafe and in a state of disrepair. Her complaint was sent to the Better Business Bureau per the arbitration clause of the contract.

On February 2, 2011, the Environmental Control Board of Baltimore City issued an Environmental Citation to Ms. Richardson due to the condition of her home. Later that same month, the City sent Ms. Richardson an invoice for a delinquent water bill totaling $ 2,106.59.

Ms. Richardson's niece, Alisa Boddie, who acted as an intermediary throughout this matter, introduced Ms. Richardson to Respondent. In early October 2011, Ms. Richardson retained Respondent on a contingent fee basis to represent her in an "Arbitration and Civil Suit involving Capitol Improvement Contractors, LLC and Baltimore Housing Authority."

In December 2011, the City declared Ms. Richardson's home uninhabitable. Ms. Richardson was forced to move out later that month.

On March 4, 2012, Respondent sent a "Demand Letter for Arbitration Hearing" to the Office of Rehabilitation. On March 23, 2012, Respondent sent a similar demand

202 A.3d 1207

letter to the

462 Md. 655

Better Business Bureau. No hearing was scheduled and nothing in the record suggests that Respondent followed up on either letter.

The following month, the Baltimore City Bureau of Revenue Collections sent a "Tax Sale Notice" to Ms. Richardson. At that point, Ms. Richardson learned that the City had placed a tax lien on her home because of the delinquent water bill. A tax sale was scheduled to occur on May 21, 2012.

On the day of the tax sale, Respondent wrote to the Bureau of Revenue Collections stating that the water bill was part of a lawsuit.4 Two days later, Capitol filed a breach of contract action against Ms. Richardson.

Respondent then assured Ms. Richardson that arbitration was unnecessary and that she would file a lawsuit against Capitol. Respondent, however, never sent a letter of representation or a demand letter to Capitol. Nor did Respondent file a lawsuit on Ms. Richardson's behalf, correspond with Capitol, or enter her appearance in Capitol's lawsuit against Ms. Richardson.

In November 2014, Respondent advised Ms. Richardson that she was working on Ms. Richardson's case and that after the holidays, her case would be Respondent's "first priority." The hearing judge found that Respondent misled Ms. Richardson (and Ms. Boddie) by communicating that she would continue to work on Ms. Richardson's case.

On July 6, 2015, after receiving no communications from Respondent for over six months, Ms. Boddie requested, on Ms. Richardson's behalf, that Respondent call her to discuss the case. Respondent informed Ms. Boddie and Ms. Richardson, for the first time, that she had been in the hospital and "out sick right after the holidays and just returned to work full time about two weeks ago." The hearing judge found that

462 Md. 656

between January and July 2015, Respondent took no action to protect the interests of Ms. Richardson. Respondent's medical records reflect a hospitalization from mid to late March, but nothing "right after the holidays" or "about two weeks" before July 6, 2015.

By July 25, 2015, Respondent still had not taken any action in Ms. Richardson's case, prompting Ms. Richardson to file a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission. In over three years, Respondent's representation of Ms. Richardson consisted of nothing more than the three letters sent to the Baltimore City Office of Rehabilitation, the Better Business Bureau, and the Baltimore City Bureau of Revenue Collections.

Representation of Brenda Dyer

In November 2012, Brenda Dyer was...

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