V I R G I N I A
BEFORE THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD
IN THE MATTER OF
BRIDGETTE MIRIAM HARRIS, ESQUIRE
VSB DOCKET NO. 01-000-3232

ORDER OF SUSPENSION


This matter came to be heard on July 27, 2001, in the Green Courtroom of the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, upon a Rule to Show Cause and Order of Suspension and Hearing that was entered on June 29, 2001, against and duly served on Bridgette Miriam Harris, Esquire ("Respondent"). This matter was heard by a duly convened panel of the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board (the "Board") consisting of Randy Ira Bellows, presiding, Thaddeus T. Crump, Karen A. Gould, Roscoe B. Stephenson, III, and Robert L. Freed.

The Clerk went into the hallway of the Court and called the Respondent's name three times. Respondent did not appear either in person or by counsel. Seth M. Guggenheim, Assistant Bar Counsel, appeared on behalf of The Virginia State Bar.

The court reporter for the proceeding, Catharina M. K. Blalock, Chandler & Halasz, Inc., Post Office Box 9349, Richmond, Virginia 23227, telephone (804) 730-1222, was duly sworn by Mr. Bellows.

Each member of the panel stated on the record that he or she had no business or financial interest and no personal bias that would impair his or her ability to hear the matter fairly and impartially.

Findings of Fact

Upon consideration of the testimony presented and exhibits received, the Board makes the following findings of fact:

Respondent was licensed to practice law within the Commonwealth of Virginia on November 7, 1991. At all times relevant hereto, the Respondent has been an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Respondent has never been licensed to practice law in the state of Maryland. At all times relevant hereto and until June 14, 1999, the Respondent had been an attorney licensed to practice law before the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland at Greenbelt.

On June 15, 1999, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland at Greenbelt indefinitely suspended Respondent's right to practice before it pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 105(a). The suspension arose out of the issuance by that Court of Orders to Show Cause based on allegations of a "course of continuing conduct by Respondent of misfeasance and nonfeasance observed by Judges of this court [which] appeared to put her clients' affairs in jeopardy." See Order Suspending Right of Bridgette Harris-Smith to Practice Before the United states Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland (Docket Numbers 97-1-9684-DK, 98-2-5900-PM, and 99-1-0828-DK) (June 15, 1999) (hereafter "Bankruptcy Court Order"). Before the hearing on the merits of these allegations, the Respondent agreed to an order suspending her right to practice before the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland pending further order of the Court. According to the Bankruptcy Court Order, the Respondent also agreed to execute a release so as to enable the Lawyer Counseling Program of the District of Columbia Bar to report to the judges of the court on "the monitoring of Respondent's progress toward recovery." (There is no further information before this Board which makes reference, even elliptically, to the Respondent suffering from a disability.)

3. The disciplinary action of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland at Greenbelt constituted a final decision.

4. By Rule to Show Cause and Order of Suspension and Hearing dated June 29, 2001, Respondent's license to practice law in Virginia was immediately suspended pursuant to Paragraph 13(G), and Respondent was ordered to appear before the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board at 9:00 a.m. on July 27, 2001, to show cause why her license to practice law within the Commonwealth of Virginia should not be further suspended or revoked. She was further ordered pursuant to the provisions of Paragraph 13(K)(1): to give notice by certified mail, return receipt requested, of the suspension of her license to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia to all clients for whom she was currently handling matters and to all opposing attorneys and presiding judges in pending litigation; to make appropriate arrangements for the disposition of matters then in her care in conformity with the wishes of clients, and; to give notice within fourteen (14) days of the effective date of that suspension order and make such arrangements as required within forty-five (45) days of the effective date of the suspension order. She was further ordered to provide proof to the Bar within sixty (60) days of the effective date of the suspension order that such notices and arrangements had been given and made.

5. On July 3, 2001, pursuant to this Board's Show Cause Order and Order of Suspension and Hearing, Respondent was provided with notice of the hearing on July 27, 2001, by certified mail, return receipt requested, at her addresses of record with the Virginia State Bar, Suite 303, 7603 Georgia Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20012 and 13121 Riviera Terrace, Silver Springs, MD, 20904.

6. At the hearing held on July 27, 2001, Respondent failed to appear or otherwise respond as required. She provided no evidence or other reason not to suspend her license.

Decision of the Board

Paragraph 13(G), entitled "Disbarment or Suspension in Another Jurisdiction" provides, in relevant part:

. . . If at the time fixed for hearing the Respondent has not filed a written response or shall not appear or if the Board, after hearing, shall determine that the Respondent has failed to establish the allegations of her written response, the Board shall impose the same discipline that was imposed in the other jurisdiction. . . . [Emphasis added].

Based on clear and convincing evidence and on Respondent's failure to appear or adduce any evidence in this matter, we are required to impose the same discipline that was imposed in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland at Greenbelt. This requirement presents us with a novel situation. With the exception of Paragraph 13(F) entitled "Disability," Paragraph 13 does not provide for an indefinite suspension of an attorney's license to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia. However, we find that the clear and unambiguous meaning of the above italicized portion of Paragraph 13(G) not only allows for but requires the imposition of the indefinite suspension in this matter.

More problematic is that Paragraph 13(J)(2), entitled "Reinstatement After Suspension for More than One Year", imposes certain requirements for reinstatement after a suspension of more than a year. We do not today decide the application of Paragraph 13(J)(2), or any subsequently adopted, similar provision, to Respondent's suspension, and we leave this issue open for a future panel of this Board to decide should Respondent apply to this Board for reinstatement more than a year after the effective date of this Suspension.

Accordingly, it is ORDERED that pursuant to Paragraph 13(G), the license of Respondent, Bridgette Miriam Harris, to practice law in Virginia be, and the same hereby is, suspended indefinitely, effective June 29, 2001. Such suspension shall continue until Respondent presents satisfactory evidence to this Board that the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland at Greenbelt has removed all impediments to Respondent's practice of law before such Court, and that Respondent has fully established her rights to practice law before such Court. This suspension will run concurrently with the suspension this Board issued in VSB Docket # 01-000-3231.

It is further ORDERED that a certified true copy of the Order Suspending the Right of Bridgette Miriam Harris to Practice Before the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland Case No. 99-1-0838-DK be attached to this Order of Suspension and made a part hereof.

It is further ORDERED that, pursuant to the provisions of Paragraph13(K)(1), Respondent shall forthwith give notice, by certified mail, return receipt requested, of this suspension of her license to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia to all clients for whom she is currently handling matters, if any there be, and to all opposing attorneys and presiding judges in pending litigation. Respondent shall also make appropriate arrangements for the disposition of matters then in her care, in conformity with the wishes of her clients. Respondent shall give such notice within 14 days of the effective date of this revocation order, and make such arrangements as are required herein within 45 days of this effective date of the suspension order. Respondent shall furnish proof to the Virginia State Bar within 60 days of the effective date of this revocation order that such notices have been timely given and such arrangements for the disposition of matters made. Issues concerning the adequacy of the notice and the arrangement required herein shall be determined by the Board, which may impose a sanction of revocation or suspension for failure to comply with the requirements of this subparagraph.

It is further ORDERED that, pursuant to Paragraph 13(K)(10), the Clerk of the Disciplinary System shall assess costs.

It is further ORDERED that the Clerk of the Disciplinary System send an attested true copy of this Order to Respondent, Bridgette Miriam Harris, by certified mail, return receipt requested, at her addresses of record with the Virginia State Bar, Suite 303, 7603 Georgia Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20012 and 13121Riviera Terrace, Silver Springs, MD, 20904, and to Seth Guggenheim, Assistant Bar Counsel, Virginia State Bar, 100 North Pitt Street, Suite 310, Alexandria, Virginia 22314-3133.

ENTER THIS ORDER THIS ____ DAY OF AUGUST, 2001
VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD


By: _________________________________
Randy Ira Bellows, 2nd Vice-Chair



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