IN THE MATTER OF VSB DOCKET: 00-051-1849
This matter was certified to the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board by the Fifth District Committee, Section I, and was heard on May 17, 2002, by a duly convened panel of the Disciplinary Board consisting of William M. Moffet, Chair, William C. Boyce, Jr., Thaddeus T. Crump, lay member, Karen A. Gould, and Joseph R. Lassiter, Jr. The Respondent, Mary Meade, appeared pro se and participated in the hearing in its entirety, but departed prior to the Board announcing its decision regarding sanctions. Seth M. Guggenheim, Assistant Bar Counsel, appeared as counsel for the Virginia State Bar. The proceedings were transcribed by Donna T. Chandler of Chandler & Halasz, P.O. Box 9349, Richmond, Virginia 23227, (804) 730-1222.
All required legal notices were properly sent by the Clerk of the Disciplinary System.
The Chair polled the panel members to determine whether any member had a personal or financial interest in this matter which might affect or reasonably be perceived to affect his or her ability to be impartial in this proceeding. Each member, including the Chair, responded in the negative.
(1) At all times relevant to this proceeding, the Respondent, Mary Meade has been an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
(2) Mary Meade hired Patricia Ronay, a court reporter, to report a deposition held on June 14, 1999.
(3) At the conclusion of the hearing, Ms. Meade requested Ms. Ronay to provide an expedited transcript with next day delivery. It was agreed that payment would be made upon receipt of the transcript.
(4) The following day Ms. Ronay delivered the transcript to the residence of Ms. Meade, and submitted a bill of $505.00. Payment was not made.
(5) Thereafter, Ms. Ronay made many attempts to collect the debt. At various times she spoke to Janie Hunt, a member of Ms. Meade's staff, Ms. Meade's accountant, and others. Despite her efforts, payment was not forthcoming.
(6) Finally, Ms. Ronay filed a complaint with the Bar.
(7) On December 22, 1999, Mary W. Martelino, Assistant Intake Counsel of the Virginia State Bar, wrote Ms. Meade a letter in which she requested that Ms. Meade respond to certain questions and provide the Virginia State Bar with the facts relevant to the dispute in an effort to resolve the matter informally, without a formal ethics inquiry (VSB Exhibit #C-4). Specifically, Ms. Martelino asked Ms. Meade if Ms. Meade had received any funds from her client or on behalf of her client for the payment of the court reporter's bill. Ms. Meade's response was requested within ten days.
(8) On January 6, 2000, Ms. Martelino sent Ms. Meade another letter in which she enclosed a copy of the December 22, 1999 letter and requested a response (VSB Exhibit #C-5).
(9) On February 3, 2000, Ms. Martelino sent Ms. Meade a letter in which she notified Ms. Meade that the file was being referred to Assistant Bar Counsel Noel D. Sengel for further investigation (VSB Exhibit #C-5).
(10) On February 16, 2000, the Bar received a letter from the Law Offices of Mary S. Meade, Esquire, dated December 28, 1999, and addressed to Mary W. Martelino in which Ms. Meade states, among other things, that she had "sent Ms. Ronay no less than three separate checks for her invoice in the amount of $505.00" (VSB Exhibit #C-6). Ms. Meade claimed that Ms. Ronay asserted that she did not receive the first two checks and that the third check was marked "refused." Ms. Meade further stated that she finally caused a check to be hand-delivered to Ms. Ronay. Ms. Meade asserted that Ms. Ronay accepted the third check but never cashed it. Enclosed in the letter to Ms. Martelino was yet another check in the amount of $505.00 made payable to Patricia Ronay. This check was taped to the letter in such a fashion that it could not be separated from the paper without mutilating it and, therefore, in the opinion of the Virginia State Bar was not negotiable. The letter from Ms. Meade to Ms. Martelino was postmarked December 28, 1999, but was apparently mis-delivered by the Post Office and not received by the Virginia State Bar until February 16, 2000.
(11) Upon being assigned the case, Noel D. Sengel, Senior Assistant Bar Counsel, sent Respondent a letter dated February 9, 2000 informing her of the complaint and requesting that she answer the complaint within twenty-one days. This letter was returned to Ms. Sengel with stamped notations on the envelope of "no longer at this address" and "unable to forward" (VSB Exhibit #C-7). The Bar had received no notice of a change of address of record, as required by the rules of court.
(12) Ms. Sengel sent a second letter on March 1, 2000, which was returned for the same reasons (VSB Exhibit #C-8).
(13) As a result of the return of the second letter to Ms. Meade, Ms. Sengel sent Bar Investigator James W. Henderson to determine if Ms. Meade's office was still located at her address of record. Mr. Henderson determined that Ms. Meade's office was actually located at the address on the letters.
(14) Finally, Ms. Sengel sent a certified letter on March 10, 2000, which was received and signed for by Nancy A. Gross on March 13, 2000 (VSB Exhibit #C-9).
(15) Receiving no response from Ms. Meade, Ms. Sengel referred the matter to Mr. Henderson for further investigation. Investigator Henderson interviewed Ms. Meade on November 7, 2000. During the interview, Ms. Meade said she issued four checks to Ms. Ronay, two were mailed and the third was picked up at Ms. Meade's office by Ms. Ronay. She said that the one she sent to the Bar with her December 28,1999 letter was the fourth check she had issued to Ms. Ronay.
(16) For reasons not explained to Mr. Henderson during the November 7, 2000 interview, Ms. Meade was unable to show Mr. Henderson the check register, the ledger card, copies of the checks, or the receipt for the check which was allegedly picked up by Ms. Ronay. Ms. Meade said it would take her ten days to produce these items. These materials were not provided to Mr. Henderson.
(17) As a result, on February 6, 2001, Ms. Sengel wrote Ms. Meade a letter reiterating the request for the materials previously requested by Investigator Henderson. Ms. Sengel requested that they be produced no later than March 1, 2001. No response was received from Ms. Meade.
(18) Subsequent to the February 6, 2001 letter, Ms. Sengel began to attempt to reach Ms. Meade by telephone. Ms. Sengel estimates that on her twentieth attempt, on May 21, 2001, Ms. Meade answered.
(19) As a result of the May 21, 2001 conversation, Ms. Sengel faxed to Ms. Meade a copy of the February 6, 2001 letter at the fax number provided by Ms. Meade. Still no response was forthcoming.
(20) This matter was heard by a panel of the Fifth District Disciplinary Committee, Section I, on October 9, 2001.
(21) Ms. Meade testified, under oath, that, as previously stated, she sent Ms. Ronay two checks through the mail, and the third was picked up by Ms. Ronay at Ms. Meade's office.
(22) At the hearing, Ms. Meade introduced into evidence a document which she claimed was a receipt which Ms. Ronay signed when she picked up the third check. None of the other documents previously requested by the Bar were produced by Ms. Meade at the hearing. Ms. Ronay testified at the District Committee hearing that she never received the two checks which were mailed, and that she never picked up a check at Ms. Meade's office. When shown the receipt with the signature "Pat Ronay" displayed thereon, Ms. Ronay testified that the signature was not hers and that, furthermore, she would not sign "Pat" but would sign "Patricia".
(23) The Board finds that Ms. Ronay's signature on the receipt was forged, but is unable to determine, by clear and convincing evidence, by whom.
(24) At the hearing of this matter before the Board, Ms. Ronay reiterated her testimony before the District Committee. Ms. Meade did not testify at the hearing before this Board, but her testimony before the District Committee came into evidence through the transcript of the District Committee hearing (VSB Exhibit #C ).
(25) The Board finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that Ms. Meade's statements/testimony to Ms. Martelino, Mr. Henderson, Ms. Sengel, and the Fifth District Committee, regarding the mailing of first two checks to Ms. Ronay, the delivery of the third check to Ms. Ronay, and the existence of related records were false.
The Board finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that the following Rules have been violated:
DR 1-102. Misconduct.
(A) A lawyer shall not:
RULE 8.1 Bar Admission And Disciplinary Matters
An applicant for admission to the
bar, or a lawyer in connection with a bar admission application,
in connection with any certification required to be filed as a condition of
maintaining or renewing a license to practice law, in connection with
a disciplinary matter, shall not:
RULE 8.4 Misconduct
It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:
DR 1-102. (A)(3) and (4) were violated
when she wrote the December 28, 1999, letter and misrepresented to the Virginia
State Bar that she had mailed the first two checks to Ms Ronay and when she
misrepresented that the third check was hand-delivered to Ms. Ronay. We find
by clear and convincing evidence that these statements were false and that Ms.
Meade knew they were false when she wrote the letter. Such conduct constitutes
a deliberately wrongful act which reflects adversely on Ms. Meade's fitness
to practice law. That same conduct involves dishonesty and misrepresentation
which reflect adversely on Ms. Meade's fitness to practice law.
Rule 8.1(c) and (d) were violated
when Ms. Meade failed to respond to Mr. Henderson's lawful demand for information
and records regarding her November 7, 2000 statements to Mr. Henderson and when
Ms. Meade failed to respond to Ms. Sengel's lawful demands in writing and orally
for information and documents regarding her November 7, 2000 statements to Mr.
Henderson and other issues in this matter.
Rule 8.4(b) and (c) were violated when she misrepresented to Mr. Henderson on November 7, 2000 that she had mailed the first two checks to Ms. Ronay and when she misrepresented that the third check was hand-delivered to Ms. Ronay. In addition, these rules were violated when she testified before the District Committee on October 9, 2001 to the same effect. We find by clear and convincing evidence that her testimony under oath and her statements to Mr. Henderson in this regard were false and that she knew they were false when she made them. As such, these false statements and this false testimony were knowing violations of these rules and were deliberately wrongful acts which reflect adversely on Ms. Meade's fitness as a lawyer.
Due to the dishonest nature of the misconduct which goes to the very essence of an attorney's fitness to practice law and due to Ms. Meade's obstructionist actions during the course of the investigation, which in and of itself is a violation of the rules, we believe that the sanction should be severe. Thus, we are ordering that Mary Meade's license to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia be, and hereby is, suspended for thirteen (13) months, effective May 17, 2002.
Pursuant to the provisions of Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13, K(1) of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Respondent shall forthwith give notice, by certified mail, of her suspension to all clients for whom she is currently handling matters and to all opposing attorneys and the presiding judges in pending litigation. The Respondent shall also make appropriate arrangements for the disposition of matters in her care in conformity with the wishes of her clients. As previously ordered in the Board's May 17, 2002 summary order, a copy of which was served on the Respondent, Respondent shall give such notice within fourteen (14) days of the effective date of the suspension order, May 17, 2002, and make such arrangements as are required herein within forty-five (45) days of the effective date of the suspension order. The Respondent shall furnish proof to the Bar within sixty (60) days of the effective date of the suspension order that such notices have been timely given and such arrangements for disposition of matters made. All issues concerning adequacy of the notices and arrangements required herein shall be determined by the Disciplinary Board.
It is further ordered pursuant to paragraph 13K(10) of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, that the Clerk of the Disciplinary System shall assess costs against the Respondent.
It is finally ordered that the Clerk of the Disciplinary System shall forward a copy of this order, by certified mail, to the Respondent, Mary Meade, at her address of record with the Virginia State Bar, 7799 Leesburg Pike, Suite 900, Falls Church, Virginia 22043-2413, and to Seth M. Guggenheim, Assistant Bar Counsel, Virginia State Bar, 100 N. Pitt Street, Suite 310, Alexandria, Virginia 22314-3133.
ENTERED this ______ day of _______________, 2002.
VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD
William M. Moffett, Chair