Legal Ethics

Associate Who 'Closed' Files of Law Firm Clients He Wanted for His Future Solo Practice is Disbarred

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In a 4-3 decision, a divided Maryland appeals court today ordered the disbarment of a young personal injury attorney who admittedly altered client records in the computer system of the law firm for which he then worked as an associate, in order to facilitate his plan to take the clients with him when he opened his own solo practice.

Gregory Raymond Keiner argued that his alcohol dependence and depression, as well as an otherwise clean disciplinary history and his efforts to resolve his personal problems and rectify the situation, called for a lesser penalty. But the Maryland Court of Appeals held (PDF) that disbarment was appropriate where “respondent’s conduct was dishonest, it was intentional, and it was solely motivated by the desire for personal gain.”

Planning to open his own solo practice, in order to increase his earnings from the $268,700 he made at Law Offices of Evan K. Thalenberg as of 2008, the 2002 bar admittee came up with a scheme to take some matters with him secretly, according to the opinion.

Keiner, whose practice focused on lead paint cases, altered some blood test results in the Thalenberg firm’s records, to make it appear that clients didn’t have strong cases, and put letters in the firm’s computer system “closing” the files. Meanwhile, he planned to file complaints on the clients’ behalf himself, once he opened his own law office, a Howard County Circuit Court judge assigned to make factual and legal conclusions determined.

While there was nothing wrong with Keiner’s ambition to be more successful, his alteration of the firm’s electronic records was criminal under Maryland law, Circuit Judge Timothy McCrone found. He also said Keiner had misappropriated Thalenberg firm resources while working to establish his own practice.

Thus, “given respondent’s intentional dishonest misconduct, motivated exclusively by his desire for personal gain, the totality of the mitigation respondent has proven does not constitute the ‘compelling extenuating circumstances’ necessary to permit a sanction less than disbarment,” the appeals court majority held.

A brief dissent says suspending Keiner’s license for an indefinite period of time would be more consistent with prior attorney discipline cases in the state.

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog

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