Kerpelman v. Bricker, No. 100

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtMOORE
Citation329 A.2d 423,23 Md.App. 628
PartiesLeonard J. KERPELMAN v. William T. S. BRICKER.
Docket NumberNo. 100
Decision Date16 December 1974

Page 628

23 Md.App. 628
329 A.2d 423
Leonard J. KERPELMAN
v.
William T. S. BRICKER.
No. 100.
Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.
Dec. 16, 1974.

[329 A.2d 424]

Page 629

Leonard J. Kerpelman, Baltimore, for appellant.

Thomas G. Peter, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom were Francis B. Burch, Atty. Gen., and J. Michael McWilliams, Asst. Atty. Gen., on the brief, for appellee.

Argued before MORTON, GILBERT and MOORE, JJ.

MOORE, Judge.

In this action for libel, the appellant, a member of the Bar of the State of Maryland, alleged in a three-count declaration that the appellee, an attorney and a Deputy Administrator of the State Motor Vehicle Administration, falsely and maliciously charged in a letter addressed to the Chairman of the Grievance Committee of the [329 A.2d 425] Maryland State Bar Association, that appellant's behavior 'before a quasi-judicial representative of the State government was a disgrace to the legal profession, and conduct that certainly requires consideration by your Committee.' The communication further recited that it was written 'not only as Deputy Administrator of a State agency, but as an attorney whose reaction to Mr. Kerpelman's conduct was one of embarrassment and disgust.' A demurrer to the declaration on the ground of absolute privilege was sustained without leave to amend.

It is well settled in Maryland that statements made by counsel and by parties in the course of 'judicial proceedings' are privileged so long as such statements are material and pertinent to the questions involved, irrespective of the motive with which they are made. DiBlasio v. Kolodner, 233 Md. 512, 197 A.2d 245 (1964); Kennedy v. Cannon, 229 Md. 92, 182 A.2d 54 (1962); Maulsby v. Reifsnider, 69 Md. 143, 14 A. 505 (1888). This constitutes an absolute privilege. It is distinguished from a qualified privilege in that the former provides immunity irrespective of the purposes or motive of the defendant or the reasonableness of his conduct, while the

Page 630

latter is conditioned upon the absence of malice and can be lost by abuse. Kennedy v. Cannon, supra. 'This absolute immunity,' wrote Sybert, J. in Kennedy, 'extends to the judge as well as to witnesses and parties to the litigation, for defamatory statements uttered in the course of a trial or contained in pleadings, affidavits, depositions, and other documents directly related to the case.'

Petitions or complaints charging professional misconduct of an attorney are customarily presented in the first instance to the Grievance Committee of a Bar Association and the proceedings are controlled by Code 1957 (1968 Repl.Vol.), Art. 10, §§ 11-26 'Misconduct of Attorneys-Negligence-Disbarment-Suspension' and by Maryland Rules of Procedure, Subtitle BV, 'Discipline and Inactive Status of Attorneys.'

A proceeding before a Grievance Committee has been characterized as a 'judicial proceeding.' Braverman v. Bar Association of Baltimore, 209 Md. 328, 336, 121 A.2d 473 (1956), cert. denied 352 U.S 830, 77 S.Ct. 44, 1 L.Ed.2d 51 (1956). In investigations of such complaints and in the conduct of disciplinary proceedings, such a Committee acts as a quasi-judicial body and is invested with the authority, acting through its executive council, to file charges against an attorney in the Court of Appeals. Rule BV 3.

Clearly the filing of the complaint in this case initiated a judicial proceeding by setting in motion the grievance procedure. Other States have held that a communication similar to defendant's letter is absolutely privileged. Wiener v. Weintraub, 22 N.Y.2d 330, 292 N.Y.S.2d 667, 239 N.E.2d 540 (1968); Ramstead v. Morgan, 219 Or. 383, 347 P.2d 594, 77 A.L.R.2d 481 (1959). See also 3 Restatement, Torts §§ 587, 588. No previous Maryland case has squarely decided the matter and we are urged to rule that only a qualified privilege exists where the complaint is filed not by a lay person but 'by a public official learned in the law' who is at once both a 'brother and a competitor.' We strongly disagree with the latter characterization. Members of the bar are brothers, in a collegial sense, but they are competitors only in the spirit of public service and not-as

Page 631

argued by appellant Kerpelman in brief and at oral argument-in the pursuit of economic advantage, one against another. 1 The practice of law is a profession, not a trade nor a business. Indeed, with the ministry [329 A.2d 426] and medicine, it is one of the three 'learned professions.' 2

'For lawyers, the most important truth about the law is that it is a profession.' This statement by the renowned Dean John H. Wigmore from his Foreword to Carter's, The Ethics of the Legal Profession, (1915), was quoted by Chief Judge Vanderbilt in the case of In Re Rothman, ...

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31 practice notes
  • Practice and procedure: Patent and trademark cases rules of practice; representation of others before Patent and Trademark Office,
    • United States
    • Federal Register December 12, 2003
    • December 12, 2003
    ...148 (1996), cert. denied, 239 Conn. 942, 684 A.2d 711 (1996); Jarvis v. Drake, 250 Kan. 645,830 P.2d 23 (1992); Kerpelman v. Bricker, 23 Md. App. 628, 329 A.2d 423 (1974); Netterville v. Lear Siegler, Inc., 397 So.2d 1109 (Miss. 1981); Sinnett v. Albert, 188 Neb. 176, 195 N.W.2d 506 (1972);......
  • Part II
    • United States
    • Federal Register December 12, 2003
    • December 12, 2003
    ...148 (1996), cert. denied, 239 Conn. 942, 684 A.2d 711 (1996); Jarvis v. Drake, 250 Kan. 645,830 P.2d 23 (1992); Kerpelman v. Bricker, 23 Md. App. 628, 329 A.2d 423 (1974); Netterville v. Lear Siegler, Inc., 397 So.2d 1109 (Miss. 1981); Sinnett v. Albert, 188 Neb. 176, 195 N.W.2d 506 (1972);......
  • Sindorf v. Jacron Sales Co., Inc., No. 257
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • June 25, 1975
    ...regard to his purpose or motive, or the reasonableness of his conduct.' Id. This is absolute privilege. See Kerpelman v. Bricker, Md.App., 329 A.2d 423, filed 16 December 1974. 'If it has relatively less weight from a social point of view, the immunity may be qualified, and conditional upon......
  • Reichardt v. Flynn, No. 42
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • May 8, 2003
    ...(1964) (declaration in prior suit); Bartlett v. Christhilf, 69 Md. 219, 227, 14 A. 518, 520 (1888) (petition); Kerpelman v. Bricker, 23 Md.App. 628, 634, 329 A.2d 423, 427 (1974) (letter of complaint to then Grievance Committee of Maryland State Bar Association initiating a `judicial procee......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
29 cases
  • Sindorf v. Jacron Sales Co., Inc., No. 257
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • June 25, 1975
    ...regard to his purpose or motive, or the reasonableness of his conduct.' Id. This is absolute privilege. See Kerpelman v. Bricker, Md.App., 329 A.2d 423, filed 16 December 1974. 'If it has relatively less weight from a social point of view, the immunity may be qualified, and conditional upon......
  • Reichardt v. Flynn, No. 42
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • May 8, 2003
    ...(1964) (declaration in prior suit); Bartlett v. Christhilf, 69 Md. 219, 227, 14 A. 518, 520 (1888) (petition); Kerpelman v. Bricker, 23 Md.App. 628, 634, 329 A.2d 423, 427 (1974) (letter of complaint to then Grievance Committee of Maryland State Bar Association initiating a `judicial procee......
  • Overman v. Klein, No. 13641
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • October 27, 1982
    ...197 A.2d 245 (1964) (declaration in prior suit); Bartlett v. Christhilf, 69 Md. 219, 14 A. 518 (1889) (petition); Kerpelman v. Bricker, 23 Md.App. 628, 329 A.2d 423 (1974) (letter of complaint); Gilpin v. Tack, 256 F.Supp. 562 (W.D.Ark.1966) (interrogatories); O'Barr v. Feist, 292 Ala. 440,......
  • McLaughlin v. Copeland, Civ. No. B-76-475.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • June 7, 1977
    ...320 F.2d 219, 221 (2d Cir. 1963). The court does note, however, that the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in Kerpelman v. Bricker, 23 Md.App. 628, 329 A.2d 423 (1974), held that an attorney who wrote a letter to the chairman of the bar association grievance commission charging an attorney ......
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