Pugh campaign treasurer faces Attorney Grievance discipline [UPDATED]

Pugh Campaign Treasurer faces legal sanction

Keith Timmons is State Senator Catherine Pugh’s campaign treasurer, a position he has held, off and on, since 2003. He is also a lawyer, since 2000, specializing in personal injury cases sustained in car crashes. In that realm he is in trouble.

On Feb. 4, the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission filed a complaint against Timmons in the Circuit Court. The charges culminated a year-long process during which the commission investigated several complaints his former clients filed. In sum, three clients said they fired Timmons after not being able to reach him, but in all three cases Timmons charged them for representation. One client says Timmons’ assistant effectively forged his signature, netting the firm one-third of a $10,000 settlement he’d previously rejected.

None of the matters alleged by the Attorney Grievance Commission have anything to do with Timmons’ role as Pugh’s campaign treasurer. And the case is new, so Timmons’ response (if any) has not yet been recorded [Update: shortly after this blog was published on Friday, Timmons emailed City Paper to say the allegations are false. "As I have engaged the law firm of Joseph Greenwald & Laake, Pa. , Tim Maloney , to represent me in this matter , I am prevented from making any comments," he wrote]. But the allegations are serious, and illustrate just one of the pitfalls faced by Baltimore politicians in search of campaign help. [Update: Timmons is also treasurer for City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, City Council member Warren Branch (13th District) Dels. Talmadge Branch (D-45th District) and JayJalisi (10th District), and the District 40 Team Slate of Dels Frank Conaway and Barbara A. Robinson].

According to the complaint, Timmons’ law firm employed “non-lawyer assistants” to meet with potential clients and guide their cases. The assistants would meet with prospective clients, talk over their claims and present a contingency contract which, if the clients signed it, would bind them to that assistant.

In the three cases detailed, the clients did not hear from Timmons, the actual lawyer they hired, for months after hiring him to handle their cases.

In June 2013, Shavaeona Brown was injured in a car accident and hired Timmons. By August 2014, she’d received no communications from her lawyer, despite contacting his office “on numerous occasions. During these contacts, Brown communicated only with non-lawyer assistants.”

She fired the firm, and Timmons asserted a lien on any settlement she would eventually get—and Timmons was indeed paid when her claim settled.

In its complaint, the Attorney Grievance Commission calls this “unreasonable and excessive in light of the fact that Brown received little or no legal services of counsel from the Respondent or any other lawyer associated with Respondent’s firm.”

Brown filed a grievance, and Timmons did not respond in a timely fashion, waiting until after the deadline on the Attorney Grievance Commission’s second notice, the complaint says.

In March 2014, Anthony Maurice Williams hired Timmons after being injured in a car accident. His story is much like Brown’s, but in his case, Timmons’ firm got a settlement without consulting the plaintiff. Williams says he told Timmons’ office that a proposed $10,000 settlement was not enough, but the law firm accepted it anyway on his behalf: “Unbeknownst to Williams, the non-lawyer assistant with whom he had been dealing sent a copy of a document appearing to have been signed by Williams and purporting to release the opposing parties from all liability . . . in exchange for the $10,000 settlement,” the complaint states. “The document ...contained a false representation that Williams’ signature had been witnessed by the Respondent acting as a Notary.”

Timmons’ firm still collected its $3,333 on that case, an amount the Attorney Grievance Commission deems “unreasonable and/or excessive.”

According to the complaint, Timmons explained the matter to the Bar Counsel’s investigator like this: Tinishia Johnson, the non-lawyer assistant who handled the matter, “purportedly by Williams’ consent, signed Williams’ name to the document” on Aug. 4, 2014, a day during which Timmons was out of the office. Timmons said his assistant also signed his name and affixed his notary seal to the document. There are no current court proceedings involving Tinishia Johnson in Maryland records.

Timmons did not tell the insurance company that paid the settlement what happened, the complaint states. He also did not respond to the complaint by the AGC for about two months.

The third case has the same pattern. Gloria L. Elam signed her contingency agreement on April 1, 2014, then never heard from a lawyer. By September she was threatening to get another lawyer if Timmons didn’t answer her call, and he didn’t so she did. Timmons again asserted a lien on the eventual settlement, which “constituted an effort to make an agreement or collect an unreasonable fee,” by the AGC’s lights.

Again, Timmons’ response to the complaint was late, the Attorney Grievance Commission says.

The complaint alleges Timmons is in violation of eight different rules of professional conduct, including lack of diligence, failure to communicate effectively with clients, taking or attempting to arrange excessive fees, failure to supervise non-lawyers, unauthorized practice of law (by the non-lawyers), failing to disclose a fact necessary to correct a misapprehension in a case, and misconduct.

He faces reprimand, suspension or possible disbarment.

Click here for more from Edward Ericson Jr. or email Edward at eericson@citypaper.com

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