Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : June 2006

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Court Considers Reforms, Sanctions, Commission to Boost Legal Professionalism

~Annual Attorney Assessment Proposed to Fund Commission~

Public hearings start September 5

After a comprehensive probe of declining legal professionalism in Maryland, the Court of Appeals of Maryland's Judicial Commission on Professionalism (MJC) has issued a package of reforms that propose everything from new professionalism standards and guidelines, greater sanctions, a judicial mentoring program for law students, the continuation of MSBA's Professionalism Course for new attorneys and a court-implemented counseling program for lawyers to updated discovery abuse guidelines and procedures to monitor the unauthorized practice of law. The Court hopes to enhance legal professionalism through these proposed reforms and Rule changes and will convene a series of public hearings on them this fall, before taking final action.

The MJC's final report, The Maryland Judicial Commission Final Report and Recommendations, issued on May 31, 2006, also recommends the continuation of the MJC, with an annual assessment imposed on every Maryland lawyer to fund it. As proposed, the new judicial Commission will "plan, implement, monitor and coordinate professionalism efforts of the Bar, courts, law schools and law firms." It will promote professionalism activities and "monitor the efforts of the Maryland State Bar Association and other associations and committees in carrying out the court's mandate with respect to the advancement of professionalism and submit periodic reports to the Court."

Created in November 2003, MJC, which evolved from the Maryland Judicial Task Force on Professionalism, has studied numerous facets of professional conduct in the state's legal profession for the last 30 months and recommended numerous procedures and methods to raise professional standards, largely through the work of its eight subcommittees: Standards and Ideals of Professionalism; Professionalism Guidelines and Sanctions for Use by Judges; Discovery Abuse; Mentoring; Update Existing Professionalism Course for New Admittees; Development of a Professionalism Course for Lawyers who Exhibit Unprofessional Behavior; Defining the Unauthorized Practice of Law; and the Judge's Role in the Bar and in the Community.

Chaired by the Honorable Lynne A. Battaglia, MJC consists of 36 lawyers and judges from all counties in Maryland. The Commission's final report offers a series of recommendations from each subcommittee. MJC's goal is "to create a higher awareness of professionalism within the legal community."

Highlights of the reform package include strengthened professionalism standards for lawyers and judges in terms of ideals, responsibilities, education, civility, fairness and service. The Commission recommends the issuance of judicial sanctions, including "monetary civil penalties," for professional misconduct. Discovery abuse will be addressed through such measures as expanded Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) discovery guidelines and new uniform discovery protocol.

In addition, the expansion of MSBA's mentoring program, providing specific mentor assignments for interested new admittees, is suggested as is the formation of a new judicial law school mentoring program. MSBA's Professionalism Course for new attorneys is slated to continue with several MJC revisions, and the Court will implement a counseling program for experienced attorneys who exhibit unprofessional behavior. Finally, the unauthorized practice of law will be more closely monitored and the interaction of judges with the Bar will be broadened.

"I was totally impressed with the level of commitment this Commission showed to the issue of professionalism," exclaims Battaglia. "All of the MJC members tried to support their colleagues by developing a greater awareness of the importance of professionalism. I hope our work product reflects this commitment as well of the enormity of work done by the Commission."

"Our report is a studied response to all aspects of professionalism: education, sanctions and how to improve the level of professionalism in Maryland," MJC's Chair continues. Battaglia believes her Commission has crafted a plan that will work in Maryland.

A preliminary schedule of hearings (see below) has been set. For updated information on the hearings, and to review the complete report, refer to http://mdcourts.gov/professionalism/index.html.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: June 2006

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