Lawyer is disbarred after accusations of 'pervasive incivility' and 'reckless indifference to the law'

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A lawyer has been disbarred in Maryland following the same disposition in Virginia for rejecting settlement offers without a client’s consent and demonstrating “pervasive incivility.”

The August disbarment of Rockville, Maryland, lawyer Ernest Paul Francis was recently announced in a list of sanctions affecting law licenses in 2022, reports. The Maryland Court of Appeals’ disbarment order is here.

The sanctions summary said Francis was being disbarred in a reciprocal action after Virginia found that he rejected two settlement offers without his client’s consent and made an unauthorized settlement demand.

He also conducted himself with “pervasive incivility” during the litigation and during an ethics hearing in Virginia, the summary said.

Virginia also found that Francis had filed frivolous pleadings that weren’t based on any good faith argument. The pleadings also contained factual representations that he had reason to think were false, Virginia had found.

A federal magistrate judge, Judge Michael Nachmanoff, had referred Francis to disciplinary authorities for his conduct in the case before him, according to the Maryland petition for discipline, which was filed in May.

A report by Nachmanoff said Francis “pursued this litigation unilaterally beyond the point at which his client had any interest in it.” Francis demonstrated a “reckless indifference to the law,” he said.

Nachmanoff wrote that Francis’ conduct toward defendants and the opposing counsel in the case had been “unreasonable, bordering on the malicious.” Francis’ incivility included threats to file bar complaints against the attorney defendants, as well as their counsels.

The case before Nachmanoff alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by two attorneys seeking to collect a past due American Express debt from Francis’ client.

In July 2015, Francis rejected a settlement offer of $1,100 plus attorney fees and costs and counteroffered $30,000. He characterized the amount as his standard demand because he had “no time to do customized demands in such cases,” according to stipulations of fact in the Virginia ethics case. Francis also turned down a September 2015 settlement offer.

Francis’ client testified in a deposition that he would have turned down the settlement offer because he had no intention of accepting any money from American Express. The client said it was he who owed American Express a debt, and he didn’t want to take “unfair advantage.” The client admitted, however, that he never told Francis of his intention to turn down money from American Express.

The client ultimately fired Francis and settled the fair debt collection case in exchange for a promise not to pursue him for fees and costs.

The ABA Journal was unable to reach Francis at the number listed for him in the Maryland attorney listings. The calls appeared to connect to a fax machine.

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