The Maryland Court of Appeals Imposes Indefinite Suspensions on Two Attorneys for Inappropriate Email Content Violating MLRPC 8.4(e)
Last month, two Maryland lawyers who had been engaged in sending misogynistic, racist, and homophobic emails from their government email accounts during a period of seven years, were indefinitely suspended from the practice of law. The Maryland Court of Appeals rejected the lawyers’ arguments that their inappropriate comments did not merit such severe discipline because they were private and unrelated to their duties.
The Court explained that these “alarmingly inappropriate” emails about colleagues, which were sent in a group email chain referred to as “the Forum of Hate,” were prejudicial to the administration of justice and evinced bias and prejudice. As a result, the Court found that the two attorneys clearly violated the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct (MLRPC) 8.4(d) and (e).
The Court noted that this was only the second case in which it had taken up the question of whether a lawyer violated 8.4(e). MLRPC 8.4(e) prohibits a lawyer from “knowingly manifest[ing] by words or conduct when acting in a professional capacity bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status when such action is prejudicial to the administration of justice.”
The Court agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that the attorneys had clearly violated this rule in multiple ways by sending offensive emails about colleagues from their work email accounts, during business hours. In assessing the related violation of 8.4(d), the Court reaffirmed its previous holding in Attorney Grievance Commission v. Link, that conduct engaged in outside the legal profession can be “prejudicial to the administration of justice” as long as it is not “purely personal.” The Court reasoned that the racist, sexist, and homophobic emails sent by the two attorneys, in this case, were not “purely personal” and “any reasonable member of the public’s perception of the legal profession would be negatively affected upon learning that [these attorneys] used their Department email addresses during work hours to repeatedly send such offensive emails about their colleagues.” The Court elaborated that the conduct in this case was egregious as “these were not spontaneous, impulsive, or out-of-character remarks or isolated incidents.”
In issuing the indefinite suspensions, the Court recognized that it was “writing on a blank slate” and expressed its concern that were it to impose lesser discipline, members of the Bar and the public would perceive it as an indication that the Court does not view such offensive remarks as serious misconduct. Therefore, the Court concluded that indefinite suspensions were appropriate and would provide a proper baseline for similar cases (and those involving less egregious 8.4(e) violations) in the future.
Due to the relative paucity of cases addressing violations of MLRPC 8.4(e), this decision will lay the foundation for the Attorney Grievance Commission’s cases against attorneys for personal remarks reflecting inappropriate bias and prejudice for years to come. Attorneys need to understand that what the email, text, blog, and write on social media may be scrutinized and become the basis for disciplinary action against them.
Nathans & Biddle LLP is a highly respected advocate for individuals and businesses involved in a broad spectrum of criminal and civil disputes, forfeitures, and attorney grievance matters. With offices in Baltimore, Annapolis, and Greenbelt, we represent clients across Maryland (both federal and state courts), the Washington D.C. area, and several other federal courts across the country.