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The number of complaints filed with the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland (AGC) against Maryland attorneys declined considerably in Fiscal Year 2012, as did the number of cases docketed for further investigation, according to the AGC’s latest report.
The Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland’s 37th Annual Report reveals that the 2,309 complaints reported in FY 2011 fell to 2,032 this fiscal year. Meanwhile, docketed complaints “fell significantly,” from 429 in FY 2011 to 384 this year, showing a reversal in an upward trend that began in 2009. During the last year, the number of active, licensed attorneys in Maryland grew from 35,515 to 36,587.
However, the 93 disciplinary actions recorded in FY 2012 represented a nearly 33 percent increase over the previous year. Of paramount concern is a startling jump in the number of disbarments, 45. That figure – a record high in the AGC’s 37-year history – bests the previous record, set a decade earlier, by 50 percent, and is nearly twice the number reported in FY 2011 (24).
The Report found no definitive cause for the increase, though it does call it “noteworthy that in a number of instances, the misconduct which resulted in disbarment occurred years before the final disposition.”
Of the disciplinary actions taken in FY 2012, 16 were attributed to matters regarding competent representation, diligence, communication, neglect, and abiding by a client’s decisions; 10 to misconduct (dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation); and 11 to misappropriation of funds.
Meanwhile, actions taken in response to failure to maintain complete records, account to clients or others, maintain trust accounts, or safeguard funds spiked dramatically – 21, up from 8 in FY 2011.
Disciplinary actions taken because of criminal acts or convictions (15) also rose significantly from the 10 recorded the previous year.
Two of the state’s most populous locales experienced notable drops in complaints. Baltimore City fell from 65 in FY 2011 to 47 in FY 2012, while Montgomery County recorded 67 complaints this year, as compared with 81 in FY 2011. Complaints in Prince George’s County (48) also diminished considerably from last year’s number (73), as did those in Talbot County (2, down from 15). However, Baltimore County experienced a marked rise with 79, up from 57 in FY 2011.
Categorically, AGC docketed 35 complaints regarding attorney trust accounts – more than double the 17 reported last year. Bankruptcy complaints rose from the 26 reported in FY 2011 to 35 this year. Complaints in matters of family law also grew (63, up from 49 last year), as did those in immigration (17, up from 9 in FY 2011). However, complaints in several practice areas fell, including: injury (32, down from 61 in FY 2011); civil litigation (65, down from 74 in FY 2011); and real estate (19 in FY 2012, down from 33 the previous year).
Created in 1975, the Attorney Grievance Commission, at the direction of Bar Counsel, oversees the conduct of both Maryland lawyers and non-members of the Maryland Bar who engage in the practice of law in the state.