Reimagining Vanderlinde: Dishonesty Doesn’t Always Lead to Disbarment

By: George S. Mahaffey | 4.5.22 | Media

Even though the attorney discipline process is not supposed to punish lawyers,[1] in years past an attorney charged with 8.4(c) violations in Maryland would often find themselves staring down the barrel of disbarment. The reason the Court often defaulted to disbarment was the 2001 Vanderlinde[2] decision, a case that has been revisited over the past several months, including recently in AGC v. Collins. (AGC V. COLLINS, 2022 Md. LEXIS 67 (Feb. 25, 2022))

Collins is important for Maryland attorneys because it reimagines Vanderlinde and holds that disbarment does not always follow when an attorney is accused of intentional dishonesty. In Collins, the respondent-attorney was charged with, among others, lying on an application for reinstatement to the Maryland bar. The respondent-attorney did not cooperate during Bar Counsel's investigation and did not respond to five requests for discovery, which led to a motion for sanctions being partially granted against the attorney.[3] While the respondent-attorney presented mitigation evidence at trial, the trial judge found violations of Rules 3.3, 8.1(a), 8.1(b), 8.4(c), 8.4(d), and 8.4(a), including committing perjury.[4] The trial judge also found six aggravating factors and no mitigation factors.[5] The respondent-attorney did not appear for oral argument. Even when presented with these facts, the Court of Appeals did not find that the respondent-attorney should be disbarred.

The Court found that Vanderlinde no longer set the standard for the imposition of the sanction in cases involving intentional dishonesty.[6] While attorneys who engage in other kinds of fraud, for instance in working to assist the overturning of free and fair elections, may likely be disbarred, the Court of Appeals does make a distinction between those cases that do and do not involve the misappropriation of money.

The takeaway from Collins is that while each case is unique and can rise or fall depending upon the aggravating and mitigating factors at issue, disbarment may not be the sanction in intentional dishonesty cases unless the matter involves: (1) theft or the intentional misappropriation of funds, (2) personal profiting by the attorney from the dishonest conduct at issue; or (3) causing harm to clients.

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] The Court of Appeals has repeatedly stated that "the purpose of attorney disciplinary proceedings is to protect the public and deter other lawyers from engaging in misconduct rather than simply to punish the lawyer." Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Powell, 461 Md. 189, 226 (2018) (citing Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Mollock, 450 Md. 133, 158 (2016)).

[2] 364 Md. 376, 773 A.2 463 (2001).

[3] Id. at *6, 33.

[4] Id. at 33, 36.

[5] Id.

[6]Id. at *64.