AGC v. Bonner: When Mitigation is Not Enough

By: George S. Mahaffey | 4.6.22 | Media

Coming hot on the heels of Collins, the Court of Appeals also addressed Vanderlinde and the issue of mitigation in intentional dishonesty cases in AGC v. Bonner.[1] Bonner involved a well-respected, experienced respondent-attorney who misappropriated $14,000 in 35 separate transactions.[2] The attorney admitted to the misappropriation and the resulting violation of the Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct.[3] The trial court found four aggravating factors present and eight mitigating factors. In admitting to the rule violations, the respondent-attorney held out hope that the significant number of mitigating factors would prevent disbarment.

In construing the sanction, the Court of Appeals recognized the holding in Collins and that Vanderlinde "no longer exclusively sets the standard for imposition of sanction in cases involving dishonesty."[4] The Court went on to find that as was the case in Collins, non-disbarment cases involving intentional dishonest conduct "have a common nexus —specifically, there was no theft or intentional misappropriation of funds by the attorney, and the attorney did not benefit or profit from his misconduct."[5] Even with significant mitigation evidence, Bonner was disbarred because he engaged in the misappropriation of funds, was caught, expressed remorse, and then resumed his misconduct for several years. The Court noted that what tipped the scales in favor of disbarment was not only the misappropriation of money, but the fact that Bonner had a chance to stop his misconduct after being caught and failed to do so.[6]

The key takeaways from Bonner are that significant mitigation evidence may not be enough to avoid disbarment when the misappropriation of money is involved and that the Court of Appeals continues to recognize a key distinction between intentional dishonesty cases that do and do not involve the misappropriation of money.

Goodell DeVries defends various professionals and organizations, including lawyers and law firms, in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia. Many of these cases are ethics matters involving Bar Counsel. If you have questions about the above or are a Maryland lawyer facing discipline, please contact the author, George Mahaffey.



[1] 2022 Md. LEXIS 100 (March 3, 2022).

[2] Id. at *21.

[3] Id. at *2.

[4] Id. at *62-63.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at *70.