Many ethics attorneys were intrigued by media reports of a complaint filed in February by Elliott Greenleaf, P.C. against four firm shareholder-attorneys and a paralegal who left the firm’s Wilmington office to join Armstrong Teasdale LLP. The complaint alleged that the defendants made secret plans to depart and “secretly copied and transferred out of the Firm certain client files, client correspondence, and Firm work product,” and “destroyed and shredded Firm files.” That was only one side of the story, of course. Hearing nothing about the other side, we checked the docket to see if the case had quickly settled, as many similar cases do. It turns out that the case is very active, and it continues to raise issues of interest to practitioners in this area.
Maryland is harsh on lawyers who commit dishonest acts. Since Attorney Grievance Commission v. Vanderlinde, 773 A.2d 463 (Md. 2001), the Court of Appeals has stated many times that the presumptive sanction for dishonest acts is disbarment. To oversimplify, the Court reasons that lawyers who commit dishonest acts are dishonest lawyers and therefore cannot be entrusted with client matters.
In October 2019, the Maryland State Bar Association’s Committee on Ethics published an opinion discussing a Maryland attorney’s duty to report the unauthorized practice of law by a non-Maryland attorney. A footnote to the opinion states:
It is worth noting that other jurisdictions have self-reporting requirements for licensed attorneys who are disciplined for violations of rules of professional conduct in other jurisdictions. See, Rule 8.3 of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct. Maryland does not impose a similar obligation on its attorneys.