Attorney Misconduct, Bankruptcy, Benchslaps, Ex-Lawyer of the Day, Lawyer of the Day, Legal Ethics

Ex-Lawyer of the Day: ‘An Unprecedented Lack of Common Respect and Decency’

Some people, once they have been defeated, simply give up and fade into the cold, dark night. But others refuse to lie down and be devoured by wolves. Like Liam Neeson, they tape broken bottles to their fingers and strap their hunting knives to their frostbitten hands and fight until there’s nothing left.

A now ex-lawyer from Maryland seems to fall under that second category. She seems to have tried every trick in the book (and several not in the book) to fight getting disbarred.

It didn’t work. And now she’s on the receiving end of an absolutely vicious benchslap.

Was our ex-lawyer of the day unethical? Perhaps. Unprofessional? Maybe. But you can’t say she didn’t try…

Michele L. Payer is a 2003 graduate of the University of Baltimore Law School. She was a practicing bankruptcy attorney but faced several serious charges of attorney misconduct.

Last year, Maryland Bar Counsel filed a Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action against Payer. The case ended up in front of Judge Robert E. Cahill, Jr., of Baltimore. Long story short, Judge Cahill decided that Payer should be disbarred. He conclued that Payer had violated numerous Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct, including failing to provide competent counsel, knowingly making false statements and failing to provide truthful information to Bar Counsel, and “engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation and engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.”

Seems pretty bad, right? It was. But, of course, Payer did not give up. Through her attorney, Harold Link, she filed 41 pages of exceptions to Judge Cahill’s findings.

Yesterday, a panel of judges from the Court of Appeals of Maryland handed down a ruling agreeing with Judge Cahill, obliterating Payer’s career in the process. Here’s where you can start making jokes about the University of Baltimore.

It’s honestly worth reading the last couple of pages of the opinion, available here. Barring that, here is a juicy sampler (emphasis added and citations omitted):

Having overruled all but one of respondent’s exceptions and determined that disbarment is the appropriate sanction, we would ordinarily end our discussion. Given the unprecedented lack of common respect and decency with which respondent, through her attorney, Mr. Link, has chosen to present the exceptions, however, some additional comments are in order.

In presenting legal argument, there is a proper place for passion and, indeed, for the panoply of literary devices designed and appropriate to give power, force, and clarity to the argument.… More recently, by its adoption of Ideals of Professionalism, we have explained that lawyers are constrained by certain precepts of professionalism, which “require[] civility in all dealings, showing respect for differing points of view, and demonstrating empathy for others” and an understanding that “a lawyer can advocate zealously a client’s cause in a manner that remains fair and civil.”

Those precepts were utterly ignored in the drafting and filing of respondent’s exceptions, which can best be characterized as unjustified and unprofessional personal attacks on Judge Cahill, on the Assistant Bar Counsel who prosecuted the case, and on the complaining clients.

The tone of the attacks on Judge Cahill is set by referring to him throughout the exceptions, except in one place, as simply “Cahill” — not Judge Cahill. This was noted by the Court at oral argument and simply brushed aside with cavalier indifference by Mr. Link. More important, aside from the lack of the respectful honorific, respondent and Mr. Link have gone beyond simply asserting errors in various rulings and, without any justification, essentially have accused Judge Cahill of incompetence and worse.

That has got to sting. The worst part is that this doesn’t even deal with the original accusations Payer faced (which were no small potatoes). Acting this openly hostile toward the judge who has the power to decide your fate as an attorney — not a slamdunk.

I think this might be my favorite line in the opinion, though, because of its brutal simplicity:

This kind of wholly unwarranted character assassination violates the very core of
professionalism and is condemned.

Payer has already taken down her website, but according to Google cache, she marketed herself as “The People’s Attorney.” We did also manage to grab a screenshot (her address has been redacted):

It looks like this is the end of the People’s Attorney. I hope she paid off her law school loans. Otherwise, she might need her own bankruptcy attorney down the line. Or at least some visits to the People’s Therapist.

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Michele L. Payer [The Court Of Appeals of Maryland]

(hidden for your protection)

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