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In re Sheridan

April 18, 2002

IN RE ROBERT J. SHERIDAN A MEMBER OF THE BAR OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


Before Schwelb, Ruiz and Washington, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruiz, Associate Judge

On Exception of Respondent to Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility

Argued January 29, 2002

This reciprocal discipline matter was initiated by the Office of Bar Counsel for the District of Columbia ("Bar Counsel"), which informed this court in accordance with District of Columbia Bar Rule XI, § 11 (b) that the Maryland Court of Appeals had indefinitely suspended respondent Robert J. Sheridan from the practice of law in Maryland. In an order dated February 4, 2000, we temporarily suspended respondent from practicing law in the District of Columbia pursuant to District of Columbia Bar Rule XI, § 11 (d) and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility ("Board") to recommend whether identical, lesser, or greater discipline should be imposed. The Board subsequently issued a report on April 25, 2001, recommending that the greater sanction of disbarrment should be applied to Sheridan under Rule XI, § 11 (c)(4), given that Sheridan's actions in Maryland amounted to misappropriation warranting disbarrment in this jurisdiction under our holding in In re Addams, 579 A.2d 190, 191 (D.C. 1990) (en banc). Bar Counsel supports this recommendation, while Sheridan challenges the Board's conclusions. We agree with the Board that Addams controls under the facts set forth by the Maryland Court of Appeals, and therefore adopt the Board's recommendation that Sheridan be disbarred.

I.

Sheridan was admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia in 1977, and had also been admitted to practice in Maryland and Virginia. His license to practice law in Virginia was revoked when he petitioned the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board in March 1994 for leave to surrender his license because he faced allegations of misconduct. We imposed reciprocal discipline in In re Sheridan, 680 A.2d 439 (D.C. 1996), revoking his license to practice law in the District on July 25, 1996, "with leave to apply for reinstatement after reinstatement in Virginia is granted, or after the expiration of five years, whichever of these events occurs earlier." Id. at 440. Sheridan is eligible to apply for reinstatement but had not petitioned for reinstatement in Virginia as of the time of the proceeding before the Board or argument before this court. *fn1

A. Maryland proceedings

The events which led to the suspension of Sheridan's license in Maryland were fully explored in an evidentiary hearing before Circuit Court Judge Theresa A. Nolan, whose findings of fact and conclusions of law were adopted by the Maryland Court of Appeals. See Attorney Grievance Comm'n v. Sheridan, 741 A.2d 1143 (Md. 1998). We defer to findings of fact made by other courts in reciprocal proceedings. See D.C. Bar R. XI, § 11 (c) ("[A] final determination by a disciplining court outside the District of Columbia or by another court in the District of Columbia that an attorney has been guilty of professional misconduct shall conclusively establish the misconduct for the purpose of a reciprocal disciplinary proceeding in this Court.") *fn2

The facts, as found by the court in Maryland, are that in January 1991, Sheridan was employed by I.H. Hershner Company, Inc. ("Hershner") to collect debts owed to it. See Sheridan, 741 A.2d at 1146-47. He was specifically assigned to six debts, one of which was owed to Hershner by RDP Enterprises ("Perry"). See id. at 1147. Hershner filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 in Pennsylvania on March 19, 1991. See id. Despite notification by Hershner's bankruptcy counsel of the bankruptcy proceeding, Sheridan continued to press litigation against Perry in Virginia to collect on Hershner's account. See id.

An Order of Settlement was entered on January 31, 1992 in Fairfax County, Virginia on behalf of Hershner in connection with the Perry debt. See id. Hershner received judgment in the amount of $9,161.40, in addition to $1,035.58 in interest and $1,832.28 in attorneys' fees. See id. Perry was ordered to pay these amounts in twenty-one installments of $450 each by checks made payable to Sheridan as the attorney for Hershner. See id. Sheridan received two checks for $450 and deposited them into his escrow account. See id. He did not notify Hershner of either the settlement or the receipt of these checks, and later withdrew these deposited funds in payment of his services on behalf of Hershner. See id.

In a letter dated May 13, 1992, Hershner's bankruptcy counsel informed Sheridan that he was no longer authorized to represent Hershner, requested the return of all files, and ordered him to cease any further legal action on behalf of Hershner. See id. Hershner was not aware of the Order of Settlement with Perry at this time. See id. When Hershner did learn of the Settlement some time later in 1992 from a source other than Sheridan, Hershner's administrative manager wrote to Sheridan confirming this knowledge and requesting that Sheridan forward the money received from Perry. See id. at 1147-48. Sheridan did not forward the funds, claiming later that he had been instructed by Hershner to retain the money for outstanding legal fees owed by Hershner to Sheridan. See id. at 1148.

Nearly two years later, on March 2, 1994, Allied Products, Inc. ("Allied") and Hershner entered into an asset purchase agreement under which Allied would buy substantially all of Hershner's assets, including any receivables that were written off and had no book value. See id. The agreement was approved by a bankruptcy court on March 14, 1994, and the Hershner bankruptcy proceeding was dismissed on November 4, 1994. See id.

On March 7, 1995, contrary to the directive of Hershner's bankruptcy attorney, Sheridan wrote to Perry demanding resumption of the payments of $450 a month due to Hershner and threatening to file to enforce the Virginia Order of Settlement in Maryland if Perry, a business that had offices in Maryland, did not comply. See id. Sheridan explained that he had put the Hershner file on hold when Hershner had filed for bankruptcy, but because the bankruptcy case was dismissed in November 1994, he now felt free to pursue the case. See id. When Perry failed to respond, Sheridan wrote a second letter to Perry demanding that the balance of $16,733.74 owed to Hershner be paid no later than October 25, 1995,with checks payable to him as Hershner's attorney. See id. Three checks in the amount of $450 and one check in the amount of $900 were then issued by Perry to Sheridan in March, May, July and August of 1995. See id. None of these checks was put into either an escrow account for Hershner or a separate account for client's funds. See id. Sheridan admitted using these funds on professional and personal expenditures, and did not notify either Hershner or Allied of their receipt. On October 29, 1995, Sheridan wrote a final letter to Perry stating that he and Hershner would be willing to accept $12,000 payable in three equal installments as satisfaction for the original Offer of Settlement. *fn3 See id.

Concerned that Allied was not receiving the funds it had paid on account of the receivables Allied had purchased from Hershner, Perry faxed a copy of Sheridan's letter and attachments to Allied on October 27, 1995 to inform them of Sheridan's conduct. See id. Allied was unaware ...


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