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Lawyers Helping Lawyers Avoid the Perils of Professional Discipline

Poor Prognosis for Juris Doctor

Q. Most injury lawyers have difficulty getting treating physicians on the phone. But I just say I'm a "doctor" and their receptionists put me right through. Is that the right prescription?

A. The side-effects could cost you your license.

Take the case of Melinda Maldonado, J.D. Identifying herself as "Doctor Maldonado," this attorney thought she could "baby step her way" past office staff to reach physicians who resist calls from lawyers. In her defense, Maldonado claims to have "immediately clarified that she was an environmental attorney and toxic tort legal specialist"—a claim that the trial judge rejected "to reach the conclusion that Ms. Maldonado held herself out as a medical doctor."

Without commenting on "whether there are instances when an attorney may refer to himself or herself as a doctor," the Court of Appeals of Maryland emphasized that "an attorney shall not make a false or misleading communication about the attorney or the attorney's services" under Rule 7.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. "In the course of representing a client," Rule 4.1 also requires that "an attorney shall not knowingly ... make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person."

Found to have violated both provisions, "Dr. Maldonado" could not save her professional life by touting her "Juris Doctor" degree. Despite what it may say on her law school diploma, she "used the title 'Doctor' which was a deliberate and calculated move that Ms. Maldonado intended to be misleading" to gain access to a physician. "We doubt that Ms. Maldonado would have used the title 'Doctor' if she was calling any other professional office." While her claim to this title may have been "partially true," using it in this context amounted to an intentional misrepresentation.

Though she was only licensed in the District of Columbia, the Maryland Court nonetheless "disbarred" Maldonado for these and other infractions—a move that prompted reciprocal discipline and the revocation of her D.C. Bar membership. As a result, Maldonado may no longer claim the title of "lawyer."

But all is not lost. Since courts can't revoke her degree, Maldonado shall forever remain a Juris "Doctor."

Citation: Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Maldonado (Opinion by Getty, J.)

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Attorney Grievance defense attorney specializes in defending lawyers in disciplinary proceedings before the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission and the D.C. Bar's Board on Professional Responsibility involving professional misconduct, legal ethics, disbarment, suspensions of law licenses, petitions for disciplinary action, reprimands and sanctions for unethical conduct. If you receive a letter from Bar Counsel Lydia Lawless, Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton Fox, or from any attorney disciplinary board in Maryland or the District of Columbia, retain experienced attorneys with expertise in lawyer discipline and breach of ethics cases to avoid sanctions for professional misconduct. We help lawyers avoid disbarment, suspension, reprimands, censure and informal admonitions by drafting responses to client grievances and ethical complaints; representing lawyers in peer reviews, evidentiary hearings, and oral arguments before the BPR and the Court of Appeals; filing petitions to reinstate an attorney's license to practice law; conducting law firm ethical compliance audits; and drafting legal ethics opinions to protect lawyers from ethics charges. In many cases, disciplinary proceedings may be dismissed, dismissed with a warning, or result in a conditional diversion agreement with Bar Counsel to rectify misconduct. Lawyers may need help in managing their law firm attorney escrow IOLTA trust account and complying with attorney trust accounting rules to avoid charges of ethical misconduct. Do not represent yourself in responding to an attorney grievance, law firm client complaint, or other allegation of ethical impropriety. Attorney grievance defense counsel may help you comply with legal ethics rules, avoid sanctions like suspension or disbarment, and avoid future attorney grievances.


By The Lawyer's Lawyers | Kramer & Connolly and Irwin R. Kramer who are responsible for the content of this informational website.   This website is designed for lawyers faced with attorney grievances. As cases do differ, past performance does not guarantee future results.