Lawyer's hip-hop defense fails in case involving 'an overarching pattern of misconduct'

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Maryland’s highest court has disbarred a lawyer for a “myriad of rule violations” that included calling a social worker who testified in one of his cases a “bitch.”

The Maryland Court of Appeals explained why it disbarred Garland Montgomery Jarrat Sanderson in a July 23 opinion noted by the Legal Profession Blog. Bloomberg Law and Bethesda Magazine had coverage.

Sanderson “clearly engaged in an overarching pattern of misconduct,” the Maryland Court of Appeals said in the July 23 disbarment decision.

The social worker had testified that Sanderson called her a “baby-snatching bitch,” while several witnesses said Sanderson called the woman a “bitch.” At oral argument, Sanderson argued that the use of the term alone did not violate a Maryland ethics rule that bars lawyers from knowingly manifesting bias when acting in a professional capacity.

Sanderson alluded to the “casual usage of racial epithets in hip-hop music” and argued that derogatory terms can in some uses can imply a “level of respect rather than disdain.” The court said the comparison was “inapt” because his exchange with the worker “in no way demonstrated any such level of respect.”

The opinion said Sanderson also:

• Consistently failed to respond to inquiries by the bar counsel and instructed a former client to make a “patently false” statement in any ethics investigation;

• Made impermissible cash withdrawals from his trust account, then supplemented the trust account with funds from his law firm operating account;

• Failed to promptly provide a client with settlement funds;

• And failed to appear at several court proceedings for clients.

Sanderson had argued that a six-month suspension was appropriate. He did not immediately respond to the ABA Journal’s request for comment.

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