Court Considers Reforms, Sanctions, Commission to Boost
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
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.