Attorney Grievance Comm'n of Md. v. White

Decision Date12 August 2022
Docket NumberMisc. Docket AG No. 7, Sept. Term, 2021
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

480 Md. 319
280 A.3d 722

Landon Maurice WHITE

Misc. Docket AG No. 7, Sept. Term, 2021

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

August 12, 2022

Argued by Jessica B. McCully, Senior Assistant Bar Counsel (Lydia E. Lawless, Bar Counsel, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland), for Petitioner

Argued by James Sweeting, III, Baltimore, MD, for Respondent

Submitted to: Fader, C.J. Watts, Hotten, Booth, Biran, Gould, Eaves, JJ.

Eaves, J.

480 Md. 334

Landon Maurice White, Respondent, a member of the Bar of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, maintained a solo practice in Baltimore. On May 24, 2021, Petitioner, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, acting through Bar Counsel, filed a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action ("Petition") in this Court, alleging that Respondent violated the following 13 Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct ("MARPC") and two Maryland Rules regarding attorney trust accounts:

1. 19-301.1 (Competence) (1.1);

2. 19-301.2 (Scope of Representation and Allocation of Authority Between Client and Lawyer) (1.2);
280 A.3d 731
3. 19-301.3 (Diligence) (1.3);

4. 19-301.4 (Communication) (1.4);

5. 19-301.5 (Fees) (1.5);

6. 19-301.8 (Conflict of Interest; Current Clients; Specific Rules) (1.8);

7. 19-301.15 (Safekeeping of Property) (1.15);

8. 19-301.16 (Declining or Terminating Representation) (1.16);

9. 19-303.1 (Meritorious Claims and Contentions) (3.1);

10. 19-303.3 (Candor Toward the Tribunal) (3.3);
480 Md. 335
11. 19-303.4 (Fairness to Opposing Party and Attorney) (3.4);

12. 19-308.1 (Bar Admissions and disciplinary Matters) (8.1);

13. 19-308.4 (Misconduct) (8.4);

14. 19-407 (Attorney Trust Account Record-Keeping); and

15. 19-410 (Prohibited Transactions).

Pursuant to Maryland Rule 19-772(a), this Court referred the matter to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City and designated the Honorable Myshala E. Middleton (the "hearing judge") to conduct an evidentiary hearing and provide findings of fact and conclusions of law. After a three-day hearing held on January 4, January 19, and February 1, 2022, the hearing judge found clear and convincing evidence that Respondent violated 14 of the 15 allegations in the Petition.1 Respondent filed exceptions to the hearing judge's Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, and this Court heard oral arguments on June 2, 2022.

On June 6, 2022, we issued a per curiam Order imposing the sanction of immediate disbarment of Respondent from the practice of law. Att'y Grievance Comm'n v. White , 479 Md. 83, 276 A.3d 1071 (2022). We now overrule the exceptions and hold that the hearing judge's Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are supported by clear and convincing evidence. Our reasons are as follows.


The hearing judge found the following facts, which we summarize.

A. Background

Respondent was admitted to the Bar of the Court of Appeals of Maryland on June 16, 2015, and maintained a solo practice of law in Baltimore, Maryland. On September 9, 2019,

480 Md. 336

Petitioner and Respondent entered into a Conditional Diversion Agreement ("CDA") and an Agreement Concerning the Appointment of a Law Practice Monitor.2 These agreements related to Respondent's representation of Orlando Hamilton and Don Crudup. Along with these clients’ cases, however, the allegations in the Petition also concern three other clients’ cases (Robert Frazier, Kenneth Cole, and the Nelson Contracting Company) and Respondent's attorney trust account.

B. Representation of Orlando Hamilton

In 1986, Orlando Hamilton was convicted of first-degree murder in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County and received a life sentence.3 On September 9,

280 A.3d 732

2017, Mr. Hamilton's mother, Mary Hamilton, retained Respondent to file a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, for which she agreed to a flat fee of $8,000.00 and provided a cashier's check for $4,500.00. Neither Mr. Hamilton nor his mother signed a retainer agreement with Respondent.

After several months of unsuccessful attempts to contact Respondent both by telephone and in person, Mary Hamilton terminated Respondent's services and requested a refund. Instead of immediately refunding Ms. Hamilton, Respondent wrote to Mr. Hamilton to inquire if he wished Respondent to continue representation. Even though Mr. Hamilton did not respond to the letter, Respondent drafted a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief. Mary Hamilton filed a complaint with Petitioner, following which Respondent fully refunded her via two checks.

480 Md. 337

Petitioner docketed on June 22, 2018, the Hamilton complaint and requested that Respondent provide a copy of Mr. Hamilton's client file, a copy of any financial record-keeping pursuant to Maryland Rule 19-407, and an explanation of whether he provided Mary Hamilton with an accounting of the legal services he performed. Instead of complying with this request, Respondent advised Petitioner that he refunded Mary Hamilton in full and that he would also provide the information requested. After three more requests from Petitioner that also went unanswered,4 Respondent provided a written response.

C. Representation of Don Crudup

In October 2016, Don Crudup filed a pro se complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, alleging negligence by employees of the institution where he is incarcerated—Eastern Correctional Institution. In response to the defendants’ motions to dismiss, Mr. Crudup retained Respondent to represent him and signed a retainer agreement, which provided for a fee on a contingency basis, whereby Respondent would receive 40% of any settlement proceeds awarded. On May 26, 2017, Respondent entered his appearance and sought an extension to file a response to the defendants’ motions. The district court granted the request and set a deadline for responses to be filed no later than July 27, 2017. After a review of the pending motions, however, Respondent determined that Mr. Crudup had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before the complaint was filed,5 and Respondent advised Mr. Crudup to pursue the administrative remedies before he (Respondent) took any further action in the case. In turn, Mr. Crudup advised Respondent that he no longer wished to pursue the federal complaint. Respondent,

480 Md. 338

however, did not take any action to dismiss the case or to withdraw his appearance. On September 25, 2017, the district court dismissed Mr. Crudup's complaint.

On April 23, 2018, Mr. Crudup filed a complaint with Petitioner. In a July 20, 2018, letter, Petitioner asked Respondent to provide a complete copy of Mr. Crudup's client file. Respondent ignored that request, as well as two subsequent requests. Respondent finally provided in October 2018 a copy of Mr. Crudup's client file.

280 A.3d 733

On July 2, 2019, Petitioner took Respondent's statement under oath, during which Respondent admitted that he periodically failed to provide written retainer agreements and settlement disbursement sheets to clients in contingency cases.

D. Representation of Robert Frazier

Robert Frazier was convicted on October 25, 1988, of first-degree murder in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City and was sentenced on December 12, 1988, to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. On July 28, 2016, Mr. Frazier, in proper person, filed a Petition for Writ of Actual Innocence and Request for Hearing in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City to which the State filed a response. The circuit court scheduled a hearing on the matter for December 16, 2016.

Mr. Frazier's son, Robert Johnson, retained Respondent to represent Mr. Frazier in the above matter and paid Respondent a flat fee of $4,000.00 in cash. Respondent neither deposited nor maintained the funds in an attorney trust account, as required by Maryland Rule 19-407(a), and Respondent did not obtain written, informed consent to deposit the funds in a non-attorney trust account. Respondent entered his appearance on behalf of Mr. Frazier and was successful in obtaining a postponement of the hearing.

Although the court rescheduled the hearing to March 8, 2017, between December 14, 2016, and March 8, 2017, Respondent did not communicate with Mr. Frazier or prepare Mr. Frazier for the hearing. Respondent also produced no evidence

480 Md. 339

that he had any communication or visitation with Mr. Frazier prior to the March 8th hearing. In short, Respondent did no substantive work in...

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