Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Pennington
876 A.2d 642 (Md. 2005)

  • Pennington was an attorney in Maryland. She took a personal injury case from Butler.
  • The case was thrown out because the Statute of Limitations expired.
    • When Butler’s complaint was filed, the court clerk gave it an incorrect docket number.
    • Pennington didn’t notice until it was too late.
  • Pennington told the opposing party (Amica Insurance) that the case had been dropped, but didn’t inform Butler.
    • Instead, Pennington offered to pay Butler $10k, which is what he had hoped to win in the settlement.
    • Pennington had asked a legal ethics expert, Wiggins, who said that disclosure was not required.
      • Wiggins was only licensed to practice law in DC, not Maryland.
  • Pennington paid Butler $10k, minus her contingency fees. Then went after the doctor in an attempt to have Butler’s medical expenses reduced.
    • Pennington told the doctor that Amica had settled the claim.
    • The doctor contacted Amica, who contacted the Attorney Grievance Commission.
  • The Attorney Grievance Commission filed charges against Pennington for violation of a number of rules.
    • Rule 1.1, and Rule 1.3, Pennington didn’t act competently or diligently when she didn’t notice the misfiled paperwork in time.
    • Rule 1.2, and Rule 1.4, Pennington didn’t act within the scope of her representation by giving the $10k to Butler without communicating the reason why (Butler should have been given a choice to sue for legal malpractice).
      • This is also a Rule 1.7(b), conflict of interest violation, and a Rule 1.16(a)(1), failure to withdraw representation violation.
    • All of this amounts to a Rule 8.4, Misconduct violation.
  • The Hearing Judge ordered that Pennington be suspended for 120 days, both sides appealed.
    • Pennington argued that she had acted in good faith and relied on Wiggins’ counsel.
  • The Appellate Court permanently disbarred Pennington.
    • The Appellate Court found the Rule 1.1, and Rule 1.3, violations were honest mistakes.
    • However, the Rule 8.4 violation was egregious enough to warrant disbarment.
      • Again, this case shows that if a lawyer makes a mistake, they need to admit it immediately, it’s the cover-up that gets you disbarred, not the initial violation!