Maryland Lawyer Is Disbarred for Lying To Get Admitted Pro Hac Vice in California

By Joan C. Rogers  

The Maryland Court of Appeals Oct. 27 disbarred a Maryland-licensed lawyer who misrepresented himself as a Maryland resident in applications for pro hac vice admission in California after he had recently relocated to that state (Maryland Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Joseph, Md., Misc. Docket AG No. 11, 10/27/11).

The court rejected the lawyer's argument that he could consider himself a Maryland resident because he remained registered to vote there and had not decided to abandon Maryland as his domicile. Plenty of evidence demonstrated that the lawyer intentionally lied about his residence so that he could practice in California on a pro hac vice basis without having to take the bar exam there, the court found.

Going to California

In an opinion by Judge Clayton Greene Jr., the court found clear and convincing evidence that Joel D. Joseph, who was licensed to practice law in Maryland, left Maryland on Jan. 31, 2007, went to California, and, intending to reside there, made false or misleading statements in his applications for pro hac vice admission in lawsuits pending in a California state court and a California federal court.

Greene noted that in March 2007, Joseph took a one-year lease on an apartment in Santa Monica, Cal., and during 2007 he used his Santa Monica address on personal checks, described himself as a California resident in a letter and a pro se pleading, obtained a California driver's license, registered his car in California, and had his mail forwarded from a UPS store in Maryland to another mail-service store in Santa Monica. He had no ties to any property in Maryland at that time, Greene said.

In two pro hac vice applications filed during that time, however, Joseph denied being a California resident. In addition, he told the California lawyer who sponsored his pro hac vice admission and the lawyer's assistant that he lived and worked at a Maryland address—which was actually a UPS box.

Residence Isn't Necessarily Domicile

California does not allow pro hac vice admission if the applicant is a “resident” of the state, but the pro hac vice statute does not define “resident.”

Maryland bar counsel contended that Joseph violated several aspects of the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct by fudging the facts about his state of residence for purposes of getting admitted pro hac vice in California.

Joseph claimed that he was a “resident and domiciliary” of Maryland in 2007, and that he had not decided where to live permanently. The court rejected that argument and spurned his reliance on an Illinois Supreme Court decision that addressed the meaning of residence and domicile for purposes of election law.

Residence and domicile aren't necessarily synonymous, Greene said, adding that the meaning of “residence” depends on the context and purpose of the statute in which the term is used. The California pro hac vice statute, he said, “uses the term ‘resident' in the ordinary, common sense fashion, meaning a place where one has an ‘abode of some permanency,' rather than as a synonym for domicile.”

“California's pro hac vice rule … inquires as to where an applicant actually lives, rather than the location of his or her domicile,” the court stated. It found that in 2007 Joseph was a resident of California because he was actually living there for a substantial period of time.

Intentional Deception

The court held that Joseph committed misconduct by:

• making or failing to correct a false factual statement to a tribunal (Rule 3.3(a)(1));

• engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation (Rule 8.4(c)); and

• engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice (Rule 8.4(d)).

On the question of what sanction to impose, the court decided that Joseph deserved to lose his Maryland law license.

His conduct “lacked candor, was dishonest, misleading, prejudicial to the administration of justice, and beyond excuse,” and there were no mitigating circumstances, the court declared, stating that disbarment is the usual sanction for intentional dishonest conduct.

Assistant Bar Counsel Dolores O. Ridgell, Crownsville, Md., represented the attorney grievance commission. Joel D. Joseph, Beverly Hills, Cal., represented himself.

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The ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct is a joint publication of the American Bar Association Center for Professional Responsibility and BNA.

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