Can monetary sanctions be imposed upon a client in Maryland due to the attorney’s flawed legal analysis?

Maryland Rule 1-341 permits a court to impose monetary sanctions against an attorney and/or the client for litigating without substantial justification or in bad faith.

Can a court in Maryland impose monetary sanctions against a client when the attorney had advised the client to file a frivolous case?  The answer is “no”.

When imposing sanctions based upon the lack of substantial justification for a party’s arguments, the court must be cognizant of the different roles played by the attorney and client in formulating legal strategy.  The Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct states that it is the lawyer, not the client, who “assume[s] responsibility for . . .legal tactical issues”  See Maryland Rule 19-301.2(a) and comment 1.

Maryland attorneys are bound by Maryland Rule 19-303.1 “not [to] bring or defend a proceeding, or assert or controvert an issue therein, unless there is a basis for doing so that is not frivolous”.  Clients expect that their attorneys will employ “the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation” in evaluating their cases.  Maryland Rule 19-301.1.  Accordingly, Maryland Rule 1-341 monetary sanctions should not be imposed against a client when the attorney erroneously believes that the case is meritorious due the attorney’s professional misjudgment.

For a further discussion, see Paralegal Consultants, LLC v. Edward J. Brown, Maryland Court of Special Appeals, unreported decision dated November 13, 2019 (holding that a paralegal, who filed a defamation lawsuit, was not subject to Maryland Rule 1-341 monetary sanctions, because the paralegal had relied upon her attorney’s professional judgment that her defamation case was not frivolous).

Practice pointer for clients: If the opposing side is seeking sanctions against you (or you and your attorney), your attorney might have a conflict of interest.  Instead of accepting responsibility for filing a frivolous claim or making a frivolous argument, the attorney might try to shift the blame and the imposition of monetary sanctions onto the client.  The client should consider retaining independent counsel to defend the imposition of monetary sanctions, unless the original attorney agrees to pay any sanctions imposed.

 

 

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