In re Washington, No. 84-1549.

Docket NºNo. 84-1549.
Citation489 A.2d 452
Case DateFebruary 28, 1985
CourtCourt of Appeals of Columbia District

Page 452

489 A.2d 452
In re Melvin J.
WASHINGTON, Respondent.
A Member of the Bar of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
No. 84-1549.
District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
Submitted January 30, 1985.*
Decided February 28, 1985.

Before NEBEKER, FERREN and BELSON, Associate Judges.


ORDER

This matter is before the court on the Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility. The Board considered the report of a hearing committee on charges against respondent Melvin J. Washington arising from two matters: respondent's conduct of a landlord-tenant matter which he undertook for Debra Nesbitt, the mother of his secretary (Bar Docket No. 276-82); and his actions as conservator of the estate of Francis R. Jones (Bar Docket No. 57-83). The Board adopted the findings of the hearing committee that, in the Nesbitt matter, respondent had practiced law in a jurisdiction where he had no license, DR 3-101(B), and had neglected a legal matter entrusted to him, DR 6-101(A)(3); and that, in the Jones matter, he had neglected a legal matter entrusted to him, DR 6-101(A)(3), and had engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, DR 1-102(A)(5). The Board agreed with the hearing committee that other charges against Washington should be dismissed. We accept the Board's findings of fact as supported by substantial evidence of record. D.C.App.R. XI § 7(3). We also agree with the Board's conclusions of law that respondent had violated the specified disciplinary rules.

The Board, with one member dissenting and another not participating, recommended a three-month suspension from the practice of law as the appropriate sanction for respondent's violations.1 We will adopt the Board's recommended disposition "unless to do so would foster a tendency toward inconsistent dispositions for comparable conduct or otherwise would be unwarranted." D.C.App.R. XI § 7(3). There are mitigating factors in respondent's case, notably his record of pro bono service and the absence of any prior ethics violation. Nevertheless, respondent's two cases of neglect, his practicing law without a license in the Nesbitt matter, and his conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice in the Jones matter — both in his failure to provide information to the court's designee (the

Page 453

auditor-master), and in his refusal to cooperate with Bar Counsel's investigation of that failure — convinced both the hearing committee and the Board that a suspension from the practice of law was warranted. Our review of the cases reveals that the recommended suspension of three months is consistent with precedent and fair under the circumstances. See, e.g., In re Jamison, 462 A.2d 440 (D.C. 1983); In re Knox, 441 A.2d 265 (D.C. 1982); In re Dwyer, No. M-61-80 (D.C. June 9, 1981); In re Harmon, No. M-79-81 (D.C. December 14, 1981); In re Schattman, No. M-63-81 (D.C. June 2, 1981); In re Russell, 424 A.2d 1087 (D.C. 1980) (six months for lesser offense). We therefore adopt and incorporate the appended Report and Recommendation of the Board.2

Accordingly, it is

ORDERED that Respondent Melvin J. Washington, is suspended from the practice of law for three months, effective 30 days from the date of this decision and order.

APPENDIX
BOARD ON PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS
Bar Docket Nos. 276-82, 57-83
IN THE MATTER OF: MELVIN J. WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

This matter is before the Board on Professional Responsibility as a result of two reports filed by Hearing Committee No. Seven in two separate matters concerning the same Respondent. We pause at the outset to recognize the care and thoughtfulness with which Hearing Committee No. Seven has prepared its two reports to this Board. The reports before us are comprehensive and thoughtful and have greatly simplified our task in dealing with these cases.

In the first case that we consider (Docket No. 276-82), Respondent is charged with a series of disciplinary violations arising from his representation of the mother of his secretary in a small claims matter in Maryland. In this connection, Respondent is specifically charged with practicing law in a jurisdiction in which he did not have a license and with neglecting the case.

In the second case before us, Respondent is charged with two disciplinary violations as a result of his appointment as a conservator. The violations charged are neglect and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

We turn to each case separately.

BAR DOCKET NO. 276-82 (NESBITT)

I. Facts.

In May 1982, Ms. Debra Nesbitt, who is the mother of Respondent's then-secretary, consulted Respondent concerning difficulties that she had experienced in recovering a security deposit from her former landlord. Respondent wrote a letter to the landlord, but the letter failed to resolve the matter. The letter stated in part: "This office has been retained to represent the interest of Ms. Nesbitt."

When the letter failed to secure the return of the security deposit, Respondent drafted a small claims complaint in his own handwriting and gave it to his secretary to type. Respondent caused his office address and telephone number to be placed on the complaint in a manner that indicated that he was representing Ms. Nesbitt, and he signed it. He then personally filed the complaint in the District Court of Maryland in Prince George's County. Respondent was not licensed to practice law in the state of Maryland.

When the small claims case came on for' trial, Respondent could not attend the trial

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because of a conflict in his schedule. Ms. Nesbitt went to court and obtained a continuance.

On the second court date, Respondent again was unable to attend court because of a conflicting obligation. He instructed his secretary to tell her mother that he would be out of town on business on the trial date but that Ms. Nesbitt should speak with a Maryland attorney by the name of Henderson, who had agreed to represent Ms. Nesbitt. When the secretary contacted Mr. Henderson, he stated that he had not agreed to represent Ms. Nesbitt and suggested that Ms. Nesbitt represent herself.

As a result, Ms. Nesbitt appeared in court by herself and sought another continuance. Evidently, judgment was entered by default because of Ms. Nesbitt's failure to prosecute the case. On the following day, Ms. Nesbitt wrote a letter to the judge of the Maryland court explaining the history of her case. Subsequently, the Maryland court vacated the default judgment and reset the matter for trial. The Maryland judge also referred the matter to the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, which, upon discovering that Respondent was not admitted in Maryland, forwarded the file to the District of Columbia disciplinary system. The small claims case eventually went to trial, and Ms. Nesbitt recovered approximately $265.00.

Ms. Nesbitt testified that throughout the course of events recited above, she experienced the greatest difficulties in attempting to contact Respondent, who repeatedly failed to return her telephone calls.

The Hearing Committee found that all of the facts recited above had been proven by Bar Counsel by clear and convincing evidence, and we find substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support that conclusion.

II. Discussion.

Based upon the conduct outlined above, Bar Counsel charged six offenses.

First, Bar Counsel charged a violation of Disciplinary Rule 3-101(B), which requires that: "[a] lawyer shall not practice law in a jurisdiction where to do so would be in violation of the regulations of the profession of that jurisdiction." It was uncontested that Respondent was not licensed to practice law in the state of Maryland. It can not be seriously contended that the preparation and filing of a complaint on behalf of another does not constitute the practice of law. Thus, the Hearing Committee found a violation of DR 3-101(B), and we agree.

Second, Bar Counsel charged a violation of DR 6-101(A)(3), which requires that a lawyer not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him. The Hearing Committee found, and we agree, that Respondent's failure to pursue Ms. Nesbitt's case, failure to appear for trial, failure to assert her statutory right to treble damages, failure to secure other counsel to appear when he was unable to do so, and failure to return her telephone calls all amounted to neglect. Once again, we believe that the Hearing Committee has correctly analyzed this aspect of the case.

Third, Bar Counsel charged a violation of DR 6-101(A)(1), which prohibits an attorney from handling a legal matter that he knew, or should have known, he was not competent to handle, without associating with him a lawyer who is competent to handle the matter. The Hearing Committee declined to find a violation of this Disciplinary Rule, opining that the rule is aimed at expertise and not at legal qualifications such as licensure to practice law. We agree with the Hearing Committee and note that the acts charged under this rule are adequately covered by the two rules already cited (DR 3-101(B) as to failure to hold a license and DR 6-101(A)(3) as to failure to assert statutory rights to treble damages). Therefore, we need not reach the charge under DR 6-101(A)(1), which is duplicative.

Fourth, Bar Counsel charged a violation of DR 6-101(A)(2), which forbids an attorney

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to handle a legal matter without preparation adequate in the circumstances. Specifically, Bar Counsel claimed that Respondent's failure to amend Ms. Nesbitt's complaint to allege her entitlement to treble damages under the Maryland statute concerning the recovery of security deposits from landlords violated this rule. Once again, the Hearing Committee found that no violation was made out, and we agree. The Hearing Committee found two fundamental defects in Bar Counsel's case. In the first place, the principal evidence underlying Bar Counsel's theory...

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15 practice notes
  • Attorney Grievance v. Fezell, Misc. AG No. 34
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • October 13, 2000
    ...State Bar, 52 Cal.3d 1201, 278 Cal.Rptr. 371, 805 P.2d 325, 327-29 (1991); In re Rich, 559 A.2d 1251, 1254 (Del.1989); In re Washington, 489 A.2d 452, 456-57 (D.C. 1985); The Fla. Bar v. Grosso, 647 So.2d 840, 840-41 (Fla.1994); In re Royal, 29 Ill.2d 458, 194 N.E.2d 242, 243 (1963); Commit......
  • In re Shay, No. 99-BG-649.
    • United States
    • July 27, 2000
    ...See In re Bernstein, 707 A.2d 371, 374 (1998); In re Lieber, 442 A.2d at 156; In re Ryan, 670 A.2d at 379; see also In re Washington, 489 A.2d 452, 456 The attorney-client relationship is further bolstered by the fact that Respondent never said or did anything to indicate to E.Y. that she w......
  • In re Ray, No. 95-BG-480.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • May 9, 1996
    ...are plainly supported by substantial evidence. See Kennedy v. Bar Ass'n, 316 Md. 646, 561 A.2d 200, 205 n. 5 (Md.1989); In re Washington, 489 A.2d 452 (D.C.1985) (unauthorized practice); In re Tinsley, 582 A.2d 1192 (D.C. 1990) (handling legal matter which attorney was not competent to 4 Th......
  • In re Lebowitz, No. 06-BG-271.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • March 13, 2008
    ...for unauthorized practice "continued over a period of years" and previous suspension for unauthorized practice); In re Washington, 489 A.2d 452 (D.C.1985) (three-month suspension for unauthorized practice and other violations). Generally in District of Columbia cases involving unauthorized ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
15 cases
  • Attorney Grievance v. Fezell, Misc. AG No. 34
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • October 13, 2000
    ...State Bar, 52 Cal.3d 1201, 278 Cal.Rptr. 371, 805 P.2d 325, 327-29 (1991); In re Rich, 559 A.2d 1251, 1254 (Del.1989); In re Washington, 489 A.2d 452, 456-57 (D.C. 1985); The Fla. Bar v. Grosso, 647 So.2d 840, 840-41 (Fla.1994); In re Royal, 29 Ill.2d 458, 194 N.E.2d 242, 243 (1963); Commit......
  • In re Shay, No. 99-BG-649.
    • United States
    • July 27, 2000
    ...See In re Bernstein, 707 A.2d 371, 374 (1998); In re Lieber, 442 A.2d at 156; In re Ryan, 670 A.2d at 379; see also In re Washington, 489 A.2d 452, 456 The attorney-client relationship is further bolstered by the fact that Respondent never said or did anything to indicate to E.Y. that she w......
  • In re Ray, No. 95-BG-480.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • May 9, 1996
    ...are plainly supported by substantial evidence. See Kennedy v. Bar Ass'n, 316 Md. 646, 561 A.2d 200, 205 n. 5 (Md.1989); In re Washington, 489 A.2d 452 (D.C.1985) (unauthorized practice); In re Tinsley, 582 A.2d 1192 (D.C. 1990) (handling legal matter which attorney was not competent to 4 Th......
  • In re Lebowitz, No. 06-BG-271.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • March 13, 2008
    ...for unauthorized practice "continued over a period of years" and previous suspension for unauthorized practice); In re Washington, 489 A.2d 452 (D.C.1985) (three-month suspension for unauthorized practice and other violations). Generally in District of Columbia cases involving unauthorized ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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