To the Victor Go the Spoils? The Recovery of Attorney's Fees in Attorney Discipline Cases

Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann, LLP

Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann, LLP

AGC V. SINGH, 2023 Md. LEXIS 150 (April 7, 2023)

It is well-settled that absent certain exceptions, each party is responsible for their own attorney's fees regardless of the outcome of a case. But what about attorney discipline cases? In AGC v. Singh, the Supreme Court of Maryland analyzed whether a respondent-attorney can recover attorney's fees in a proceeding that lacked merit and which was ultimately dismissed.
Singh involved a respondent-attorney who was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days. After almost two years, the respondent moved for reinstatement. Bar Counsel not only objected to the reinstatement, it filed a separate Petition for Disciplinary Relief or Remedial Action ("PDRA"), which accused the respondent of engaging in a number of rule violations, including, among others, Rule 8.4, and engaging in the practice of law while suspended. Id. at *2. Respondent countered that the PDRA was without merit. Respondent was reinstated, though a hearing was later held on the allegations in the PDRA. Id. at *2-3. The hearing judge found evidence of certain rule violations but also significant mitigating evidence and a lack of merit in the assertion that respondent had engaged in the practice of law while suspended. Id. at *4-5. Bar Counsel decided not to file exceptions to the trial judge's findings and later moved to dismiss the PDRA, asking that each party bear its own costs. Id. at *6. In response to Bar Counsel's filing, respondent asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the PDRA with prejudice and award him his costs and fees incurred in the case. Id. The Court granted the request to dismiss with prejudice but denied the request for reimbursement of attorney's fees. Id. at *7.

The Court analyzed the general rule that each party is responsible for counsel fees regardless of the outcome, then noted that no "rule or statute in Maryland authorizes a prevailing party in a disciplinary proceeding to recover attorney's fees from the other party and, specifically, no Rule authorizes a respondent in a disciplinary proceeding to recover attorney's fees from the Attorney Grievance Commission," including Rule 1-341 because, among other reasons, "attorney disciplinary proceedings are not civil actions." Id. at*10-11.

That said, when Bar Counsel dismisses a proceeding, the respondent is considered the prevailing party and entitled to all of the reasonable and necessary costs and expenses detailed in Maryland Rule 19-709(b)(2)-(6). Id. at *13-14. The takeaway is, if you are an attorney and have succeeded in dismissing some or all of a PDRA, be sure to submit a statement of costs detailing everything you believe you are entitled to under Maryland Rule 19-709(b)(2)-(6), excluding attorney's fees.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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