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In re Merritt-Bagwell

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

May 14, 2015

IN RE ANDREA MERRITT-BAGWELL, RESPONDENT

Submitted March 5, 2015

A Member of the Bar of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. (Bar Registration No. 434943).

On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility. (BDN-186-11).

Before BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY and BECKWITH, Associate Judges, and STEADMAN, Senior Judge.

OPINION

PER CURIAM:

Having found by clear and convincing evidence that respondent, Andrea Merritt-Bagwell,

Page 875

violated District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1 (b) (failure to act with skill and care); 1.15 (a) (intentional or reckless misappropriation); 1.3 (a) (failure to act zealously and diligently); 1.3 (b)(2) (intentionally damaging or prejudicing a client); 1.3 (c) (failure to act promptly); 8.4 (c) (dishonesty); and 8.4 (d) (serious interference with administration of justice), the Board on Professional Responsibility (" Board" ) recommended that the respondent be disbarred, that execution of the disbarment be stayed due to the existence of mitigating factors, and that respondent be instead placed on three years of monitored probation subject to specific terms and conditions, see infra at 3. Additionally, the Board recommended that should respondent violate the terms of her probation or commit any additional violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, she will be subject to revocation of her probation and face disbarment. The Board found that the above violations resulted from respondent's appointment as guardian for the estate of a minor where she mishandled assets of the estate by paying herself legal fees without prior approval from the probate court and failed to make mandatory timely reports to the probate court.

In considering the appropriate sanction, the Board determined that respondent was entitled to mitigation under In re Kersey, 520 A.2d 321 (D.C. 1987), because she suffered from dysthymia[1] and this misconduct would not have occurred but for her dysthymia. See, e.g., In re Katz, 801 A.2d 982 (D.C. 2002) (establishing that respondent's depression and dysthymia were mitigating factors); In re Verra, 932 A.2d 503, 505 (D.C. 2007). To her credit, respondent admitted that she committed all of the violations, including intentional or reckless misappropriation, she has shown remorse for her misconduct, and she has been substantially rehabilitated as a result of psychotherapy treatment. Thus, while it recommends disbarment, the presumptive sanction for cases of intentional misappropriation, see In re Addams, 579 A.2d 190 (D.C. 1990) (en banc), the Board further recommends that disbarment be stayed in favor of three years of probation on the terms and conditions that:

a. Respondent shall continue to undergo therapy with a licensed psychotherapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional for the full three years of probation, unless discharged earlier by that professional, which discharge shall be confirmed in a writing from the psychotherapist, psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional to the Board and Bar Counsel;
b. Respondent shall submit quarterly reports to the Board and Bar Counsel from the psychotherapist, psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional, the scope of which shall be limited to Respondent's substantial compliance with her treatment plan;
c. Respondent shall execute an authorization form waiving any physician-patient or similar privilege to the extent necessary to permit the psychotherapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional to release information to the Board and/or Bar Counsel and/or testify at a hearing regarding Respondent's disability and compliance with the terms of probation and fitness to practice law, as provided under Board Rule 18.1;

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d. Respondent shall notify the Board and Bar Counsel of any change in her current employment status ...

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