ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s highest court has suspended Robin Ficker’s license to practice law, an action that the Bethesda lawyer, gadfly and noted sports fan said was motivated by politics.
The Maryland Court of Appeals on Tuesday suspended Ficker indefinitely after affirming the he was guilty of four of eight misconduct complaints filed against him.
The high court said Ficker could reapply for his license to practice law after 120 days, if he meets certain other conditions for reining in shoddy office practices in his law firm.
But Ficker — a former state delegate perhaps best-known as the loud heckler behind the opposing bench at basketball games of the former Washington Bullets — said the sanction reeks of political payback and a double standard.
“I’m just saying there’s a certain amount of discretion there over what they pursue,” Ficker said of the Attorney Grievance Commission, the state agency that pressed the case against him.
But officials with the commission said there are no political motives behind any of their cases.
“It’s gone through multiple levels of the process — the lawyer must have committed the infractions,” said Melvin Hirshman, bar counsel to the Attorney Grievance Commission.
The complaints came from clients of Ficker’s who charged that, between 1988 and 1992, he delegated responsibility to inexperienced and uninformed legal assistants, according to court documents.
The Court of Appeals rebuked Ficker for placing his clients in the care of legal assistants who several times missed court dates and arrived in court without ever having met the client.
Ficker himself sometimes showed up for court never having met his clients, having to call their name in the hallways to locate them, the court said, and only then discussing details of their cases.
“What is apparent … is that he was running a high-volume operation without adequate managerial safeguards and that, as a result, clients were not afforded competent representation,” the court wrote in its decision.
Court documents said that between 1988 and 1992 Ficker’s offices in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Frederick counties handled over 750 cases a year.
Ficker on Wednesday defended his employees, who he said “have passed the bar and are very capable in their own right.”
“I can’t be everywhere myself. I have to allow other attorneys to go to court when I have to be in two places at once,” Ficker said.
Ficker, who has announced plans to run for the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 2000, claimed that politically driven animosity was responsible for the complaints.
He said Maryland lawmakers and judicial officials are still smarting after they failed to stop his practice of soliciting clients through the mail. He said the establishment is also upset with his general political activism and is eager to see him fail.
Ficker said he beat Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. in federal court when Curran tried to block his practice of soliciting clients by mail.
He has also complained over the deal Curran struck with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos to represent Maryland in upcoming litigation against the tobacco industry.
Ficker, whose complaints to Curran’s office have been unanswered, wondered why the grievance commission has not questioned the deal with Angelos, whose fee in the tobacco suit could add up to billions of dollars. Most of the complaints against Ficker were in the range of hundreds of dollars, he noted.
The court, while it found for Ficker in about half of the charges against him, still found him guilty of misconduct serious enough to suspend his license.
It gave him 30 days to notify all his clients that his license has been suspended. The suspension would take effect on April 9 and last for at least 120 days, at which time he could apply to practice law again.
Before he can get his license back, however, the court said he would have to install a system for managing his caseload competently. He will also have to pay for a monitor, acceptable to the grievance commission, to advise him on the operations of a law practice for at least two years.