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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