Attorney Grievance v. Zuckerman

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Attorney Grievance Commission v. Zuckerman, Misc. Docket, AG No. 21, Sept. Term 2004. [Maryland Rules of Profession al Condu ct 1.1 (Com petence), 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4 (Commu nication), 1.15(a) (Sa fekeepin g Property), 5.3(a) and (b) (Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants), 8.4(d) (Misconduct); Maryland Rules 16-604 (Trust Account Deposits), 16-607 (Com mingling of Fun ds), Maryland Code (2000, 2004 R epl. Vol.), Sections 10-304(a) (Gen eral Requirement), 10-3 06 (Misuse of trust money); held: Respondent violated MRPC 1.1, 1.3 and 1.4 requiring diligent representation and communication with clie nts. Respondent violated MRPC 5.3(a) and (b) by failing to have reasonab le measures in place to en sure that his trust account had all of the fun ds on dep osit for his clients, and by failing to oversee employee who stole monies from the tru st account. Respondent violated Maryland Rule 16-607 and Md. Code, §§ 10-306 and 10-307 of the Business Occupations and Professions Article by depositing u nearned a dvance f ee paymen ts from his clients into his operating account rather than his trust account. Respondent violated MRPC 1.15(a) and 8.4(d), Maryland Rules 16-604 and 16-607 and Sections 10-304 and 10306 of the Business Occupations Article by failing to remove his earned attorney fees promptly from the trust account, thereby commingling his client s funds with his own. Respondent violated MRPC 8.4(d) by failing to pay either clients or medical providers, commingling client funds in his operating account and commingling client funds in the trust account. For these v iolations, Re sponden t shall be inde finitely suspend ed with the right to reapply a fter thirty d ays.] IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MARYLAND Misc. Docket AG No. 21 September Term, 2004 ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION v. CHARLES J. ZUCKERMAN Bell, C.J. Raker Wilner Cathell Harrell Battaglia Greene, JJ. Opinion by Battaglia, J. Harrell, J. disse nts Filed: April 13, 2005 The Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland ( Petitioner or Bar Coun sel ), acting through Bar Counsel and pursuant to Maryland Ru le 16-751(a), 1 filed a petition for disciplinary or remedial action against respondent, Charles J. Zuckerman, Esquire, on June 11, 2004. The Petition alleged that Z uckerman, w ho was adm itted to the Bar of this Court on June 20, 1974, violated several Maryland Ru les of Professional Conduc t ( MRPC ), spec ifica lly, 1.1 (Competen ce),2 1.3 (Diligence), 3 1.4 (Communication), 4 1.5 (Fees), 5 1.8 1 Maryland Rule 16-751(a) provides: (a) Commencement of disciplinary or remedial action. (1) Upon approval of the Commission. Upon approval or direction of the [Attorney Grievance] Commission, Bar Counse l shall file a Petition for D isciplinary or Remedial Action in the Court of Appeals. 2 Rule 1.1 provides: A lawyer shall provide compe tent represen tation to a clien t. Competent representatio n requires th e legal kno wledge, sk ill, thoroughness and prep arati on re ason ably n eces sary for the representation. 3 Rule 1.3 provides: A lawyer shall act with reaso nable diligence an d promp tness in representing a client. 4 Rule 1.4 provides: (a) A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly com ply with reaso nable requ ests for information. (b) A lawyer sh all explain a m atter to the extent reaso nably necessary to permit the client to make in formed decisions regarding the representation. 5 Rule 1.5 p rovides in re levant part: (contin ued...) (Prohibited Transactions), 6 1.15 (Saf ekee ping Prop erty), 7 5.3 (Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants), 8 8.4 (Miscondu ct), 9 5 R ule 16-607,10 and (...continued) A lawyer s fee shall be reasonable. 6 Maryland Rule 1.8 p rovides in re levant part: (e) A lawyer sh all not provid e financial a ssistance to a c lient in connection with pending or contemplated litigation, except that: (1) a lawyer may advance court costs and expenses of litigation, the repayment o f which m ay be contingent on the outcome of the matter; and (2) a lawyer representing an indigent clien t may pay court co sts and ex penses of litigati on on b ehalf o f the clie nt. 7 Rule 1.15 provides in relevant pa rt: (a) A lawyer sh all hold prop erty of clients or third persons that is in a la wyer's possession in connection with a representation separate from the lawyer's own property. Fun ds shall be kept in a separate account m aintained p ursuant to T itle 16, Chapter 600 of the Maryland Rules. Other property shall be identified as such and appropriately safeguarded. Complete records of such account funds an d of other p roperty shall be kept by the lawyer and shall be preserved for a period of five years after termination of the representation. (b) Upon re ceiving fu nds or othe r property in which a client or third person has an interest, a law yer shall promptly notify the client or third p erson. Except as stated in this Rule or otherwise permitted by law or by agreem ent with the clien t, a lawyer shall promptly deliver to the client or third person any funds or other property that the client o r third person is entitled to receive and, upon request by the client or third person , shall promp tly render a ful l accounting rega rding suc h pro perty. 8 Rule 5.3 provides: With respect to a nonlawyer employed or retained by or (contin ued...) -2- 8 (...continued) associated w ith a lawyer: (a) a partner in th e law firm shall make reasonab le efforts to ensure that the firm has in effect me asures givin g reasona ble assurance that the person's conduct is compatible with the profession al obligations of the law yer; (b) a lawyer having direct superv isory authority over the nonlawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the pers on's conduct is compatib le with the professional obligations of the lawyer; and (c) a lawyer shall be responsible for conduct of such a person that would be a violation of the rules of profession al conduc t if engaged in by a lawyer if: (1) the lawyer order s or, with the k nowled ge of the sp ecific conduct, ratifies the conduc t involved; or (2) the lawyer is a partner in the law firm in which the person is employed, or has direct supervisory authority over the person, and knows of the conduct at a time when its consequences can be avoided or mitigated but fails to take reasonable remedial action. 9 Rule 8.4 p rovides in p art: It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: *** (d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice . . . . 10 Maryland R ule 16-60 7 provide s in part: a. General prohibition. An attorn ey or law firm may depos it in an attorney trust account only those funds required to be deposited in that account by Rule 16-604 or permitted to be so deposited by section b. of this Rule. (contin ued...) -3- Maryland Code (2000, 2004 Repl. Vol.), Sections 10-304 and 10-306 of the Business Occupations and Professions Article.11 In accordance with Maryland Rules 16-752(a) and 16-757(c), 12 we referred the 10 (...continued) b. Exceptions. *** 2. An attorney or law firm may deposit into an attorney trust account funds belonging in part to a client and in part presently or potentially to the attorney or law firm. The portion belonging to the attorney or law firm shall b e withdrawn promptly when the attorney or law firm becomes entitled to the funds, but any portion disputed by the client shall remain in the account until the dispute is resolved. 11 Section 10-304 of the Business Occup ations and P rofessions Article prov ides in part: General Requirem ent. -Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, a lawyer expeditiously shall deposit trust money into an attorn ey trust accoun t. Section 10-306 of the Business Occupations and Professions Article provides: A lawyer may not use trust money for any purpose other than the purpose for which the trust money is entrusted to the lawyer. 12 Maryland Rule 16-752(a) states: (a) Order. Upon the filing of a Petition for Disciplinary or Remed ial Action, the Court of Appeals may enter an order designating a judge of any circuit court to hear the action and the clerk is responsible for mainta ining th e record . The order of designation shall require the judge, after consultation with Bar Counsel and the attorney, to enter a scheduling order defining the extent of discovery and setting dates for the completion of discovery, filing of motions, and hearing. Maryland Rule 16-757(c) states in pertinent part: The judge shall prepare and file or (contin ued...) -4- petition to Judge John N. Prevas of the Circuit Court for B altimore City for an evidentiary hearing and to make findings of fact and conclusions of law. On October 27, 2004, Judge Prevas held a hearing and on January 19, 2005, issued Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, in which he found, by clear and convincing evidence, that Zuckerman had violated MRPC 1.1, 1.3, 1 .4, 1.15( a) and ( b), 5.3(a ) and (b ), 8.4(d), Maryland Rule 16-607, and Sections 1 0-304 an d 10-306 of the Bu siness Oc cupations a nd Profe ssions Artic le: The Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, petitioner, by Bar Counse l, acting purs uant to M aryland Rule 16-751, f iled a Petition For Disciplinary or Remedial Action against Charles Zuckerman, respondent. The case was referred to this cou rt, Pursuant to Rules 16-75 2 (a), for hearing pursuant to Rule 16-757 (c). The petition charged that the respondent violated Maryland Rule of Profess ional Conduct 5.3, R esponsibilities regarding nonlawyer assistants, 1.3, Diligence, 1.4, Communication, 1.15, Safekeeping Prop erty, and Md. Bus. Occ. & Prof. Code Ann. § 10-304 by failing to dep osit trust money in a trust account and § 10-306 by regularly advancing payments to clients, by failing to pay clients, medical providers, and himself funds due to them from personal in jury settlements, b y failing to notify clients and medical providers that he was holding funds due to them, by having a negative 12 (...continued) dictate into the record a statemen t of the judg e s finding s of fact, inclu ding findin gs as to any eviden ce rega rding re media l action, a nd con clusion s of law . . . . -5- balance in his trust account on March 16, 2000, and b y making du plicate payments to himself. Petitioner further alleged that Respondent's conduct was prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation o f Rule 8.4(d). Having reviewed and considered the evidence presented at trial on October 27, 2004, the follo wing f inding s of fac t and co nclusio ns of la w hav e been made . I. Rule 5.3 (a) and (b) (Responsibilities Regarding N onLaw yer Assistants). A. Findings o f Fact The respondent has been a member of the Maryland Bar since June 20, 1974. He served for about five and a half years as an Assistant State's Attorney in Baltimore City and as an Assistant Attorney General a ssigned to th e Public Service Commission for about a year and a half. For the last twenty-two years the respondent has conducted a private law office in Baltimore City. His cases consisted of a high v olume of small perso nal injury cases (s ettlements averaging under $10,000) and few family law and c riminal law cases as w ell. He has no history of any disciplinary sanction or involvement prior to the occurr ence w hich ga ve rise to the insta nt case. On or about May 7, 2002, respondent hired Shannon Becker as a paralegal. Ms. Becker had prev iously worke d in his employ for six (6) months in 1999 answering the telephone and performing other clerical duties. She left resp ondent's employ to take what she considered a bette r job. Karen K insely, Ms. Becker's aunt, was respondent's office manager for three years prior to her -6- retirement. While working for the respon dent in that capacity, Ms. Kinsely had check-signing authority. In May of 2002, Ms. Becker was rehired by the respondent who requested her job back. She was then 23 or 24 years old. Ms. Kinsely had lef t the em ploy of th e respo ndent in Ms. B ecke r's absence. Ms. Becker was to do generally what she had done before, but was also to handle what her aunt had formerly done which was to handle the accident se ttlements after a case was settled. This required Ms. Becker to meet with clients, go over the settle ment sh eet and disburs e their m oney. Within one or tw o days of her hiring, he delegated to her the authority to write chec ks on his trus t account so that he could "concentrate on trying cases. He did so because of the constant need for someone to always be available to sign checks in connection with financial aspects of accident cases whenever such checks were needed. Though he personally had signed each check in the beginning, he later found he could not continue to regularly be available for that purp ose, since he did the office's trial work, and it seemed much more efficient to delegate a uthority to do so to an employee, as he had delegated it to Ms. Kinsely and occasionally other office managers. One of the tasks assigned to Ms. Becker was to go through a group of old files to see if any money was owed to medical providers and, if so, to distribute it, some monies having accumulated during the period of Ms. Kinsely's tenure as office manager. Prior to the discovery of Ms. Becker's defalcations, respondent used -7- a manual system, in which a separate esc row shee t was kep t in each cas e file on which all tru st account tra nsactions w ere entered . Respon dent curren tly maintains a computerized system controlling his trust account which satisfies the Ba r Coun sel's off ice. In early May, 2002, Ms. Becker devised a s cheme to steal the money in the respondent's trust account. She did so by filling out check stubs made payable to appropriate payees for what appeared to be proper amounts, but the corresponding checks were made out for considerably larger amounts made payable to friends of Ms. Becker's, who cashed the checks and turned over the procee ds to he r. The statement for the respondent's trust account arrived in his office on or about June 15, 2002. A comparison of the check stubs with the bank statement and investigation into the missing return checks from the statement would have revealed M s. Becker's the ft. However, respondent delegated that task to Stacy Kohler, another of his emp loyees who never repo rted back to him concerning the assigned task. As a result, Ms. Becker continued to steal from resp ondent's trust account until mid-July when a n anonymo us telephon e call informed him that Ms. Becker was stealing from him. Upon this information becoming known to him, respondent examined the June bank statement, and detected her theft. He immediately began an intense examination of his trust account which resulted in his discovery that Ms. Becker had been stealing -8- from the trust account. On or about July 15, 2002, respondent contacted the police and took out criminal charges against Ms. Becker. Respondent cooperated fully with police and prosecuting authorities in connection with the charges brought against Ms. Becker, who plead guilty. She was orde red to pay restitution of approximately $137,000 and sentenced to ten (10) years incarce ration w ith all bu t three yea rs suspe nded. B. Conclusion of Law : Respond ent violated Ru le 5.3 (a) and (b). Maryland Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3(a) provides that a partner in a law firm shall m ake reason able effo rts to ensure that the firm has in effect measures giving reasonab le assuranc e that the pers on's condu ct is compatib le with the professional obligations of the lawyer. Rule 5.3(b) provides that "a lawyer having direct supervisory authority over the nonlawyer shall make reasonab le effo rts to ensu re that the pers on's conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer. The evidence presented shows that respon dent's cond uct violated b oth 5.3(a) and (b). Re sponden t did not hav e in place reasonable measu res to ensure that his trust accou nt had on d eposit all of th e funds for clients for whom he was holding money. While respondent gave one of his employees, Stacy Kohler, the task of balancing the checkbook for May 2002, he made no effort to ensure that she accomplished her task. Had the employee re ported to respondent after having balanced the checkbook as requested, the theft of Ms. -9- Becker would not have occurred for another month. Further, the act of giving a new employee with no h istory of reliability was, by itself, a failure to make reasonab le efforts to ensure that the firm had in effect measures giving reasonab le assurance that the con duct would be compatible with the profes sional o bligatio ns of th e lawyer . It is also directly inferable from the fact that there was a negative balance in the trust account that the employee Kohler, given the task of balancing the checkbook, was not prope rly instructed on h ow to do so. As w ill be discussed below, funds were regularly advanced to clients and, in one instance, on May 16, 2000, the trust account had a negative balance of which respondent was never made aware. Therefore it is apparent that respondent did not instruct his employees of the proper management of the trust account and inform himself of the status of his employees' efforts to monitor the funds in the accou nt. Had he done so, Ms. Becker's theft would have been discovered on or about June 15, 2002 instead of July 15, 2002, when respondent received the ano nymous phone call. II. Rule 1.15 (a) and Md. Bus. Occ. & Prof. Code Ann. § 10-306 (Safekeeping P roperty and Misuse of T rust Mon ey) A. Findings of Fact Ms. Becker's the ft prompte d the respo ndent to dire ct another employee, Rhond a Elkins, to re view his re cords. Sinc e then, M s. Elkins has -10- spent at least two days per work week on tasks connected with the instant case. The subsequent investigation revealed that between October 2002 and August 2004, the respondent had sixty-two (62) clients that had negative balances at some point or ano ther. A s ubseq uent inv estigatio n by John DeB one, a paralegal for the Attorney Grievan ce C omm issio n, who exam ined resp ondent's trust account statements, deposit slips, and deposited items, shows that a total of 109 client's of the respondent had negative balances between 1998 and 2002. The analysis also sho wed that R esponde nt advanc ed a total of $311,898.11 to his person al injury clients w ith checks drawn on his trust account before the funds belonging to those clien ts were de posited in his trust account. On March 16, 2000, respondent's trust account had a negative balance of $363.13 . Mr. DeB one testified that after March 16, 2000, respondent disbursed $21,997.96 on behalf of thirty-four (34) clients, whose funds were supposed to have been on deposit in respondent's trust account at the time the account had a negative balance. Respondent spent the funds belonging to these clients o n other matters and did not pre serve th e fund s for his clients. In addition, Respondent charged a duplicate fee in connection with the representation of Linwood Smith. On April 23, 1999, respondent deposited $5,500 in his trust account, representing the amount of the settlement. On April 27, 1999, he removed $1,833.00 from his trust account as a fee in the -11- case and an additional $30.00 for expenses. On May 10, 1999, respondent again removed $1,833.00 from the account as a fee and another $30.00 for expenses. As a result of his charging duplicate fees, he invaded the funds of other cli ents w hen he remov ed his f ees fro m his tru st accou nt. B. Conclusion of law: Respondent violated Rule 1.15(a) and Md. Bus. Occ. & Prof. Code Ann. § 10-306. The conduct described above vio lates Rule 1.15(a), wh ich provide s in part that a lawyer sh all hold the p roperty of clien ts or third perso ns that is in the lawyer's posses sion in connectio n with a representation separate from the lawyer's own property. The funds shall be kept in a separate account maintained pursuant to Title 16, Chapter 600 of the Maryland Rules. His conduct also violates BOP § 10-306, which provides that a lawyer may not use the trust money for any purpose other than the purpose for which the trust money is entrusted to the lawyer. Respondent violated the Rule and the Code by writing checks drawn on his trust accou nt to clients w ho had n o funds o n deposit in his trust acco unt. In doing so, respondent was giving these clients funds belonging to other clients and thereby failing to keep funds belonging to the other clients in a separate account. In other words, he was giving funds belonging to one client to another. T his is a misuse of the money he was holding in trust, which was given to him for the purpose of paying the obligations of the clients whom the -12- settleme nt chec ks we re writte n. The facts recited above show that this practice was routine in the resp ondent's office. Tim e after time, ch ecks we re written to clients from resp ondent's trust account before their settlement checks had been deposited. For example, in the cases of Frances Hubbard and Sally Smith, there was a thirteen day gap between the writing of the check and the deposit of the funds. In the case of a loan to Brittingham, it was a twenty-seven day gap. In the case of M cKinle y Richar dson, it w as five m onths. It is further evident from respondent's testimony that he did not view this practice as a matter of concern, even though on one occasion it produced an overdraft. His testimony conce rning the overdra ft was to the effect that it was not a matter of great import because the account balance was up to several thousand dollars the same day of the o verd raft. It is in fera ble th at res pondent's view of the matter was that as long as there were funds available to cover the checks that were c oming in o n any one da y, the advancin g of fund s to individual clients was not a matter of co ncern. As the Court m ade clear in Attorney Grieva nce C omm ission v. G lenn, 671 A .2d 463,474 , an a ttorn ey's trust account must have funds in it to cover the outstanding obligations of the account. Respondent failed to do this and thereby violated Rule 1.15(a) and BOP §10-3 06. III. Rules 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.15 (b) (Competence; Diligence; Communication; -13- Failur e to no tify or d eliver th e fund s of me dical p rovide rs and others ). A. Findings o f Fact Respondent routinely held money from personal injury settlements for the purpose of paying medical providers. He did not pay the providers promptly after the settlements because he wanted to resolve PIP issues befo re disbursing the fun ds to the medic al prov iders. H e directed his office employees to put the files which had undisbursed funds aside, to be reviewed periodic ally. When r esponde nt hired M s. Becker, m oney had ac cumulate d in the account for a period of over three years. When respondent reported Ms. Bec ker's theft to the Attorney Grievance Commission, he believed that she had stolen approximately $115,000.00. On October 7, 2002, res ponden t wrote to the Commission that the amount taken was approximately $144,000.00. From October 2002 until August 2004, respondent's paralegal, Ms. Elkins, worked approxim ately two days per week trying to identify the owners of the stolen funds . In his deposition in answer to a question about his notification of the medical providers in the case of Elmer Green, respondent testified that the provider would k now it had an outstand ing bill and that he was handling the case and that nobody was complaining. Respondent did not know if he had notified the medical providers in M r. Gre en's case or not. Respondent received a deposited settlement check on February 28, 2001 and did not pay Medical -14- Service Center nor did he pay Mount Vernon Pharmacy until December 17 and 18, 2002, almost twenty-two (22) months later. Respondent testified that "a lot of times" his of fice wou ld tell medical providers that they were holding money pending th e resolution o f PIP issue s. Respon dent did not know if he had any letters notifying medic al providers that he wa s holding f unds belo nging to them, nor did he identify any medical providers whom he had told were due money he was h olding in trust. Respo ndent's parale gal did not find any letters to medical providers to the effect that he was holding funds in trust. Respondent did not notify the medical providers to whom he refunded money that he was holding money for them before he mailed them their checks. Respondent began refunding money to clients in December 2002 and continued refunding money to clients through Au gust 2004 . Respon dent did not notify the clients to whom he mailed the checks that he was holding money for them at any time before he ma iled them their che cks. B. Conclusion of law: Respondent violated Rules 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.15 (b) (Competence; Diligence; Communication; Failure to notify or deliver the funds of med ical providers and others) Rule 1.1 5 (b) states: Upon receiving funds or other property in which a client or third person has an interest, a law yer shall promptly notify the client or the third person except as stated in this Rule or otherwise permitted by law o r by agree ment w ith the clie nt, a lawyer shall promptly deliver to the client or the third person -15- any funds or o ther proper ty that the client or third p erson is entitled to receive and, upon request by the client or the third person shall promptly render a full accounting regarding such proper ty. It is clear from the evidence that respondent for a period of years maintained in his account substantial money belonging to both clients and third parties, nam ely, his client's medical providers, and did not notify those individuals that he wa s holdin g mon ey for the m or pr omptly d eliver it to them. It was respondent's frequent practice not to disburse all funds when the case was settled but to wait to see if the client 's personal injury protection insurance (PIP) paid any of the medical bills. He would put these files aside and periodically review the files to see if PIP had paid the bills. There "is no documentary evidence that he told anyone, either clients or medical providers, that he was holding the funds due them. Moreover, he has not identified any client or medical provider whom he advised about the funds he was holding. When Ms. Becker stole the money from his trust acco unt, it took him more than two years to identify some of the owners of the funds and the amou nts they wer e due. It is clear, therefore, that respondent was far behind in closing out his files. An examination of Petitioner's Exhibit 6 from his deposition, the computer run from Ms Elkin's work dated August 18,2004, shows that he was paying off medical providers and clients several years after the cases were -16- settled. For example, respondent received the money from Jamel Charmichael's settlement on Octob er 27, 1999 and resp ondent paid M r. Cha rmic hael 's medical bills on June 26 , 2003. Clearly he did not prom ptly deliver to the clients or medical providers the funds they were due. It is also inferable that he let these matters sit as he handled new cases and did not advise anyone that h e held their fu nds. It is appa rent that prior to Ms. Bec ker's theft of the funds that there had been no a ctivity in these files for several years. If they had been reviewed more frequently and promptly, they would have been c losed o ut with paymen ts made to prov iders. In AGC v. Stolar z, 842 A.2d 43 (2004), the Court of Appeals held that an attorney who failed to pay off a client's debt from personal injury settlement funds in violation of a written assignment in favor of the lender and who failed to notify the lender of his receipt of the settlement check violated Rule 1.15(b) even though h e had ma de an inno cent mistake and did no t personally prof it from the mistake . In this case, responden t made a p ractice of vio lating both the prompt notification and prompt delivery requirements of the Rule. Respondent had paid a client or a medical provider in 155 client files as a result of his file rev iew afte r Ms . Bec ker's theft. This means that, at the time of the theft, responde nt had 155 cases in which he had not promptly disbursed funds to either clients o r medic al prov iders in v iolation of Ru le 1.15( b). Re spon dent's failure to pay clients and medical p roviders pro mptly is -17- also a violation of Rules 1.1 (Competence), 1.3 Diligence), and 1.4(a) (Commu nication). Respondent's repeated failures to pay med ical providers and clients for periods of years demonstrates a lack of organization and competence to complete all the tasks necessary to protect his clients' interests, nam ely, payment of all medical bills and the disbursement of all amounts due the client. Respondent's failure to pursue the payment of the medical bills and the disbursement of client funds for a period of years clearly demonstrates a lack of reasonable diligence. Respon dent's failure to advise his clients that he had not paid their medical bills or was holding funds for them violates the requirement of Rule 1.4 (a) that he keep a client reasonably informed about the status of the clien t's matter. IV. Rules 1.15 (a) and 16-607 (Com mingling Funds) A. Findings of Fact In the case of K ristina Mas on and T yrell Wilson, respondent received a $500.00 settlement check on May 3, 1999 and did not remove his $200.00 fee until February 1, 2004. In th e case of M onica Fligh t, respondent received a settlement check of $3,629.00 on February 28, 2001 an d did not p ay himself a fee of $1,175.00 plus expenses of $25.00 until February 11, 2004. Petitioner's Exhibit 8. In the case of Alfred Fincher, respondent received a settlement check on May 7, 2001 and did not take his fee until June 22, 2004. Petition er's Exh ibit 8. -18- B. Conclusion of Law: Respondent violated Rules 1.15 (a) and BOP § 16607. By failing to remove funds promptly from his trust account, respondent violated both the requirement of Rule 1.15(a ) that a client's property be kept separate from the lawyer's property and the requirement of BOP §16-607(b)(2) that attorney's funds be withdrawn promptly when the attorney becomes entitled to them. In some cases the respondent did not remove his fee from the account for years afte r it was e arned. This failure is a violatio n of the Rules. V. Rule 1.15 and BOP § 10-304 (Failure to deposit trust money) A Findings of Fact Respondent represented individuals in divorce, criminal and bankruptcy cases. In those cases, he charged flat fees, som e of which w ere paid in advance at least in part. P etitio ner's Exhibit 8. Respondent deposited these fees in his o perating ac count up u ntil 2003 Petitioner's Exhibit 8, pages 81-84. Respondent's clients would sometimes pay him the balance on or shortly befo re the day o f tria l. Pet ition er's Exhibit 7, page 21. Those p ayments were also deposited in his operating account. Respondent now deposits any advan ce fee p ayments in his tru st accou nt. Respondent's testimony and his answers to interrogatories show that he never deposited advance payments of flat fees in h is trust accoun t. This -19- conclusion is also inferable from the fa ct that no advance pa yments were stolen by Ms. Becker, even though he handled criminal and divorce cases as well as personal injury. As he stated in his answers to interrogatories, respondent would c ollect the full fee a few days bef ore the trial and no t deposit it in his tru st accou nt, even though he had not com pleted th e case. B. Conclusion of Law: Respondent violated Rule 1.15 and BOP § 10-304 The full flat fee is n ot earned u ntil all the wor k associated with the fee is completed. Therefore, the deposit of an ad vance fe e paym ent in the la wyer 's operating account is a violation o f the require ment of R ule 1.15 that the lawyer keep the client's property separate from his own and the requirement of BOP § 10-304 that a lawyer deposit trust money, which would include an advance fee pa yment, in a trust acc ount. AGC v. McL aughli n, 813 A.2d 11 45 (2002); ACG v. Blum , 818 A .2d 219 (2003 ). VI. Violation of Rule 8.4 (Conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice) A. Findings of Fact and Conclusion of Law Respondent's repeated f ailures to pay eithe r clients or me dical providers as he was required to do was conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. The respondent's inactions both prevented the appropriate resolution of the client's matter and subjected his clients to potential collection ac tions by their medical providers. His failure to preserve -20- client funds also endangered payment to his clients of funds belonging to them. For these reasons, respondent's conduct was prejudicial to the admin istration o f justice . CONCLUSION There are several mitigating factors in this case that must be acknowledged. In addition to the usual stresses encountered in conducting his law practice, for several years immediately prior to the occurrence of Ms. Bec ker's defalcations the respondent was affected by significant additional stresses. These included the dissolution of his marriage, the illness, imminency and occurrence of the death of his former wife from cancer, which left respondent with the sole responsibility to care for his pre-teen son. Respondent also continues to suffer from the consequences of injuries he had sustained in an automobile collision sustained many years ago, including recurring surgical procedures. When it came to his attention, M s. Be cker 's theft added co nsiderably to res ponden t's already ample b urden of stress. Despite all such stress f actors, respo ndent con tinued to ex ert his best efforts in conducting his law practice. Respondent has been under voluntary psychological counseling in an effo rt to mitigate the effects of stresses to which he has be en and to w hich he is still exposed, and states that he has made signific ant pro gress. Respo ndent, who appea rs to have sustaine d the grea test (and the o nly) -21- monetary loss as a resu lt of events h ere involve d, did not im properly misappro priate any monies for himself from the trust account or in any other way profit or benefit from Ms. Becker's defalcations. Immediately upon becoming aware of Ms. Becker's theft, respondent closed his then existing trust account and at once opened a new trust account, in the same bank, to which he properly transferred the remaining proceeds of the former account. At Bar Cou nsel's request, respondent has from time to time produced thousands of pages of documents and records pertaining to both his former and new trust account. Those records included bank statements containing entries upon entries pertaining to deposits and withdrawals from the trust accounts, from which Bar Counsel's office gleaned and stated in their Petition for Remedial Action that respondent's trust account had a negative balance on May 26, 2000. The negative balance did not appear in the statement for May 26, 2000. The existence of the negative balance was repe ated severa l times in papers filed in this case or in discovery material furnished by petitioner un til Bar Counsel's office inform ed respondent's coun sel shortly before trial that the date so alleged was w rong and shou ld have been M ay 16, 2000. This Cou rt permitted the petitioner to amend the date in the petition to May 16, 2000 at the evid entiary he aring. While checks pertaining to settled clients' cases were on some occasions not deposited in respondent's trust account prior to issuance of -22- checks to the clients involved for their respective shares of the proceeds of the settlements, such paym ents to clients were never made prior to settlement of the case, receipt and execution of all settlement d ocumen ts and receipt of the settlement funds. Such payments were not advanced payments. Any fund s to pay medical providers being held in respon dent's trust account at the time of Bar Counsel's investigation of his trust accounts were held for good reasons, althoug h for to o long a period of time . Interested medical providers w ere fully awa re when cases we re settled. Such providers, in order to keep themselves informed in that regard, freq uently telephoned respondent's office and were kept informed of the status of the cases in which they were interested. Moreover, no medical provider complained to respond ent about a ny lack of no tice that respo ndent failed to give. Any duplicate payments and failure by respondent to remove earned fees promptly from his tru st account w ere unintentional oversights w hich were promptly addressed when brought to the respon dent's atte ntion. Respondent never made any loans to clients while litigation was pending or contemplated. Moreover, at the evidentiary hearing, petitioner withdrew its charges regarding any alleged loans. Respondent has expended many hours, much effort and considerab le funds rectifying the consequences of his employee's defalcations and has taken s ubstantial step s, including in stalling an acc ounting system recom mend ed by Ba r Coun sel to ma intain hi s trust ac count. -23- Despite the mitigating factors described above, the re still exist several Rule violations. The evidence shows that respondent was deficient in the management of his trust account for a period of several years. H e regularly failed to promptly pay medical pro viders and paid clients an d others w ith funds belonging to others. Both practices are violations of Rule 1.15, which would have been avoided had respondent closed the files when settlement occurred. Had he done this, the funds would not have been available for Ms. Becker to steal. Furthermore, the giving of check-writing authority to an unproven, nonlawyer employee within is further evidence of respondent's lax attitude toward his trust account. This attitude is underscored by his lack of interest in the recon ciliation of the May acco unt, which, ha d it been pro perly performed, would have uncovered Ms. Becker's theft sooner. Petitioner takes no exceptions to the hearing judge s findings of fact and conclusions of law and recommends indefinite suspension with the right to reapply after two years. On February 3, 2005, Mr. Zuckerman filed several exceptions to the hearing judge s findings. STANDARD OF REVIEW In proceedings involving attorney discipline, this Court has original and co mplete jurisdiction. Attorn ey Grie vance Com m'n v. James, __ Md. __, __, 843 A.2d __, __ (20 05); Attorney Grievan ce Com m'n v. O T oole, 379 Md. 595, 604, 843 A.2d 50, 55 (2004). Clear and convincing evidence must support the hearing jud ge's find ings. Attorney Grievance Com m'n v. Gore, 380 Md. 455, 468, 845 A.2d 1204, 1211 (2004). As a result, we review the -24- record independ ently but gene rally acce pt the hea ring judg e's findings of fact unless the y are clearly errone ous. Attorney Grievance Comm 'n v. Potter, 380 Md. 128, 151, 844 A.2d 367, 380-381 (2004). Any conclusions of law made by the hearing judge, such as whether provisions of the MR PC were v iolated, are subject to our de novo review . Attorney Grievan ce Com m'n v. M cLaugh lin, 372 Md. 467 , 493, 813 A.2d 1 145, 1160 (200 2). DISCUSSION A. Zuckerm an s Exc eptions R egarding th e Finding s of Fact. We have reviewed the record and conclude that Judge Prevas s findings of fact are supported by clear and convincing evidence. Zuckerman takes exception to several factual findings, each of which we will address and overrule. Exception 1: Respon dent exce pts to the follo wing fin dings of fact by the hearing judge: In May of 2002, Ms. Becker was rehired by the respondent who requested her job back. Since so much of that sentence . . . may be susce ptible to being interpre ted . . . that th e respo ndent r equest ed that M s. Beck er, a former employee whose subsequent defalcations gave rise to the instant attorney grievan ce proc eeding , return to his emp loyment, a factual conclusion that is diametrically opposed by the record, which clearly establishes that the course of events w hich led to M s. Becker s rehiring w as initiated by her written request to have her job back and not by any action on respondent s part. The trial judge s factual f indings do not directly state or impliedly suggest that M r. Zuckerman sought to rehire Ms. Becker on his own accord without any prompting by Ms. Becker. The findings clearly establish that in May of 2002, Ms. Becker asked to be rehired and tha t Mr. Z uckerm an did r ehire he r. -25- This exception is denied. Exception 2: Respon dent exce pts to so much of the hearing judge s quoted writing as apparently concludes that the additional interval of theft by Ms. Becker was the result of delay in examina tion of the Ju ne, 2002 b ank statem ent. While the relatively brief additional window of time involved may have afforded Ms. Becker further opportunity to steal, her theft certainly was neither caused by or resulted from that circums tance, but was occa sioned by Ms. Bec ker s crimina l activity an d intent . . . . The trial judge s factual findings do not indicate that Ms. Becker s theft was caused by Mr. Zuckerman s failure to timely review the June 2002 bank statement. Rather, Ms. Becker s acts wen t undetected for a longe r period bec ause M r. Zuckerm an did not tim ely review the June 2 002 ba nk state ment, w hich w ould ha ve reve aled the theft. Indeed, Judge Prevas found: The statement for the respondent's trust account arrived in his office on or about June 15, 2002. A comparison of the check stubs with the bank statement and investigation into the missing return checks from the statement w ould have revealed Ms. Be cker's theft. However, respondent delegated that task to Stacy Kohler, another of his employees. who never reported back to him concerning the assigned task. As a result, Ms. Becker c ontinued to steal from resp ondent's trust a ccount un til mid-July when an anonymous telephone call informed him that Ms. Becker was stealing from him. Upon this information becoming known to him, respondent examined the June bank statement, and detected her theft. He immediately began an intense examination of his trust accou nt which r esulted in his discovery that Ms. Becker had been stealing from the trust accou nt. Mr. Zuckerman was responsible for oversight of his trust account, which he abrogated. In his excep tions, Mr. Z uckerma n, in fact, adm its that the relativ ely brief additional window of time involved may have afforded Ms. Be cker the fu rther oppo rtunity -26- to steal. Thus, this exception is denied. Exception 3: Mr. Zuckerman alleges that the hearing judge s factual findings were that there w ere 109 ins tances in w hich clients h ad negativ e balances in his trust acc ount. He argues that the record does not show by clear and convincing evidence that any such negative balances existed o n his accou nt. First of all, Judge Prevas did not find that there were 109 times where the trust accou nt had a negativ e balan ce. Rather, Judge Prevas explicitly found that A subsequent investigation by John Debone, a paralegal for the Attorney Grievance Commission, who examined respondent s trust account statements, deposit slips, and deposited items, shows that a total of 109 clients of the respondent had negative balances betwe en 199 8 and 2 002. The bank statements, admitted in evidence as exhibit 10, indicate that on 109 occasions Mr. Zuckerman paid out more money on behalf of the client than he had on depo sit in his trust account for that client, which is also corroborated by the testimony of Ms. Elkins, a paralegal hired by Mr. Zuckerman to review the trust account statements. An analysis of the trust accoun t statements and the corresponding client ledgers, admitted in evidence as exhibit 6, shows that the total amount paid to Mr. Zuckerman s clients in this manner was $311,898.11. We, therefore, conclude that the hearing judge s factual findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence and overrule this exception. Exception 4: Respon dent vigoro usly excepts to the judg e s cha racteriza tion . . . that [Zuckerman] advanced a total of $3 11,898.13 to his person al injury clients with checks drawn on his trust account before the funds belonging to those clients were deposited in his trust account. Exception 6: Respondent excepts, for the same reasons heretofore stated, to any other instances where the hearing judge in the Findings makes a factual finding that an improper advance had occu rred or that res ponden t did not prop erly -27- safeguard his clients funds or other assets, or was not concerned with doing so or oth erwise acted im proper ly with res pect to h is trust ac count. By his own admission, Mr. Z uckerma n readily ackn owledg es that [he p aid clients with funds belonging to others] on occasions, but only where the case involved had been settled, the settlemen t funds rec eived, app ropriate releas es execute d and deliv ered and the client involved having been furnished a proper and fully explained settlement sheet. He disputes that in so doing, he advanced the money to clients from other clients funds because of his entitlement theory. Judge Prevas s finding of fact that Mr. Zuckerman advanced the mone y to those clients w hose fun ds were n ot on depo sit is supported by clear and convincing evidence because the clients funds were only available from deposited funds of other clients, so that the funds paid were on credit from the funds of others or advances. See W EBSTER S N EW C OLLEGE D ICTIONARY 17 (1999) (defining advances as [t]h e supp lying of f unds o r good s on cre dit ). Th us, we overru le both e xceptio ns. Exception 5: Respondent excepts to the following findings of fact by the hearing judge: On March 16, 2000, [Mr. Zuckerman s] trust account had a negative balance of $363.13. The hearing judge then refers to testimo ny of Mr. Debone, [AGC s investigator], as to the subsequent transactions involving the trust account and concludes tha t . . . [Mr. Zuckerman] spent funds belonging to these clients on other matters and did not preserve the f unds for h is clients. As to the factual finding that the trust account had a negative balance, Mr. Zuckerman argues that the Petitioner initially alleged that the negative balance occurred on May 16, 2000, instead of March 16, 2000, which misled or at least misdirected [him] in preparation of his defense, because he had a ready response with respect to the date so long relied upon -28- by Petitioner (on which no overdraft or other negative balance [was] disclosed on the pertinent bank statement), only to have that comfortable cushion pulled out from under him by Petitioner s shifting its ground at or shortly before the hearing below. This exception is disingenuous to the extent that Mr. Zuckerman in argument befo re this Court and the hea ring court below, a cknow ledge[d] th at a -363.13 figure appear[ed] on the bank s tatement fo r the date to which Petitioner formally shifted at the hearing below . . . . The record indicates that in its Petition for Disciplinary or Remedial Action, Bar Counsel alleged that a negative balan ce of Mr. Zu ckerman s trust account occurred on May 16, 2000. A t the hearing , Judge Pre vas allow ed Bar C ounsel to amend its petition to state the correct date of March 16, 2000, over Mr. Zuckerman s objection. Regardless of the date, Mr. Zuckerman admits that there was a negative balance on his trust account, and bank statements were adm itted in evidence as Exhibit 13 during the hearing establishing the date on wh ich the n egative balanc e occu rred. This ex ception is denie d. Mr. Zuckerman s last factual exception relates to Judge Prevas s Conclusion section addressing the mitigating factors in this c ase. To that end, Mr. Zuckerman argues that the hearing judge s findings of mitigating factors militate strongly against any conclusion that clear and convincing evidence was produced to establish petitioner s allegations and charge s. We note that the facts tending to show mitigation are used to d etermine the severity of the sanction and not whether the evidence adduced has established a violation of the Rules -29- by clear an d conv incing e videnc e. See Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Glenn, 341 Md. 448, 484, 671 A.2d 463, 480 (1996). As a result, mitigation factors are n ot weighe d in the balance of whether clear and convincing evidence was adduced to prove the a llegations. Th is excep tion is de nied. B. Exceptions to Conclusions of Law Neither Petitioner no r Respon dent takes a ny specific ex ception to the Conclusions of Law rendered b y Judge Prev as; howe ver, Respo ndent ask s this Court to find that he did not violate the Rules on the basis of his Exceptions to the Findings of Fact. Because we already have d enied h is excep tions, w e need not add ress this is sue fu rther. Judge Prevas found v iolations of MR PC 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.15(a) and (b ), 5.3(a) and (b), 8.4, and M aryland R ule 16- 607, and Sections 10-304 and 10-306 of the Business Occu pations and Pr ofessio ns Artic le. 1. MRPC 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.15(b) The hearing judge concluded that Mr. Zuckerman s mishandling of the funds in h is trust accou nt violat ed M RPC 1.1, 1.3, 1.4 and 1.15(b). With respect to Rule 1.1 requiring competent representation to a client, Mr. Zuckerman routinely failed to pay clients after settlement for periods of years due to a lack of established p rocedures to properly ma intain his trust accoun t. Once a c ase settled, M r. Zuckerm an held the client s settleme nt money to pay the medical providers, but would not pay them immediately because he wanted to resolve PIP issues before disbursing the funds. He directed his office employees to set aside the files with undisbursed funds and to review those files periodic ally. At the time that Mr. -30- Zuckerman hired Ms. Becker some settlement m onies ow ed to clients h ad accum ulated in the trust account for longer than three years. In addition, h e failed to ad vise his clients that he was holding their funds and had not paid their medical bills. We hav e previous ly held that a respondent s failure to promptly deliver money to a client and to pay third parties demonstrates incom petenc e in viola tion of th e Rule s. Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Morehead, 306 Md. 808, 821, 511 A.2d 520, 527 (1986). Thus, w e conclude that M r. Zuck erman s cond uct con stitutes a v iolation of Ru le 1.1. Mr. Zuc kerman s failure to pay m edical bills in a timely manner and to disburse client funds also demonstrates a lack of reasonable diligence in violation of Rule 1.3 and a failure to keep his clients reasonably informed about the status of th eir cases in violation of Rule 1.4. In essen ce, Mr. Z uckerma n s inability to prop erly maintain adequate records of the deposits and disbursements of his trust account provides clear and convincing evidence that he violated Rules 1 .3 and 1 .4. See Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Gallagher, 371 Md. 673, 710, 81 0 A.2d 996, 10 18 (20 02). Likewise, Mr. Zuckerman s failure to inform the medic al providers and his clien ts of fund s due to them constituted a violation of MRP C 1.15(b ), which state s: Upon receiving funds or other property in which a client or third person has an interest, a lawyer shall promptly notify the client or third person. Except as stated in this Rule or otherwise permitted by law or by agreement with the client, a lawyer shall promptly deliver to the client or third person any funds or other property that the client or third person is entitled to receive and, upon request by the client or third p erson, shall p romptly render a full accounting regarding such property. -31- We have previously held that an attorney who fails to notify the lender of his receipt of a settlement check and does not pay a client s debts from settlement funds vio lates Rule 1.15(b). See Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Stolarz, 379 Md. 387, 399, 400, 842 A.2d 42, 49 (20 04). The evidence adduced at the hearing revealed that Mr. Zuckerman had not properly disbursed funds to either clients o r medic al prov iders in f ifteen c ases. He routin ely would not pay the med ical provide rs and clients u ntil several years a fter the cases were settled. Obv ious ly, he did not deliver the settlemen t funds when they were due. Mo reover, Mr. Zuckerman testified that he did not know whether he had paid all of the outstanding medical provider s bills or if he had sent out any letters notifying medical providers and clients that he was holding funds belonging to them. Although Mr. Zuckerman alleges that he did not purposef ully act to violate this Rule, this argument is of no consequence b ecause this Court has explained on several occasions that an unintention al violation of [Rule 1.1 5] . . . is still a violation of the attorney s affirmative duties imposed by the rule. See Stolarz, 379 Md. at 399, 842 A.2d at 49 ; Attorney Grievan ce Comm n v. Sheridan, 357 Md. 1, 20, 741 A.2d 1143, 1154 (1999) (quoting Glenn, 341 Md. at 47 2, 671 A .2d at 475); Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Adams, 349 M d. 86, 96 -97, 70 6 A.2d 1080, 1 085 (1 998). 2. MRPC 1.15(a), Maryland Rule 16-607, and Md. Code §§ 10-304 and 10-306 of the Business Occupations and Professions Article. The hearing judge found violations of MRPC 1.15(a) and Maryland Rule 16-607(b)(2) because Mr. Zuckerman failed to remove his earned fees prom ptly from the trus t account, -32- thereby com mingling h is client s fund s with his ow n. MR PC 1.15 (a) states: A lawyer shall ho ld property of clients or third persons that is in a lawyer's possession in connection with a representation separate from the lawyer's own property. Funds shall be kept in a separate account m aintained p ursuant to T itle 16, Chapter 600 of the M aryland R ules. Other property shall be identified as such and ap propria tely safeg uarded . Complete records of such account funds an d of other p roperty shall be kept by the lawyer and shall be preserved for a period of five years after termination of the representation. Rule 16-607(b)(2) states: An attorney or law firm may de posit into an attorney trust account funds belonging in part to a client a nd in part pr esently or potentially to the attorney or law f irm. The portion belonging to the attorney or law firm shall be withdrawn promptly when the attorney or law firm becomes entitled to the funds, but any portion disputed by the client shall remain in the account until the dispute is resolved. On several occasions , Mr. Zuc kerman d eposited se ttlement mo ney belongin g to clients into his trust account but failed to promptly remove his fee from the trust account for years after it was earned. For example, Mr. Zuckerman received a $500.00 settlement check on May 3, 1999 and did not remove his fee until February 11, 2004. Likewise, in the year 2001, Mr. Zuckerman deposited m oney into his trust accou nt from se ttlement che cks, but did not take his fees until one year later. In failing to remove his earned fees promptly from the trust account, Mr. Zuckerman violated both Rule 1.15(a) that a client s property be kept separate from the lawyer s property and Section 16-607(b)(2) of the Business and Professions Article requiring an attorney promptly to withdraw fees once they are earned. See Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Sliffman, 330 Md. 515, 526, 625 A.2d 314, 319 (1993) -33- (holding that a failure to timely transfer earned fees from an attorney trust account involves an imp ermissib le com minglin g of fu nds). The hearing judge also found that Mr. Zuckerman violated Section 10-304 of the Business Occupations and Professions Article because he deposited advance fee paymen ts from his clients into his operating account rather than his trust account, although the fees had not yet been earned. We have previously held that funds given to an attorney in anticipation of future services qualify as trust money under Section 10-301 of the Business Occupations and Profe ssions A rticle, see Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Blum, 373 Md. 275, 298, 818 A.2d 219, 233 (2003); McLa ughlin, 372 Md. at 504, 813 A.2d at 1167, which is defined as a deposit, payment or other money that a person e ntrusts to a law yer to hold for th e benefit of a client or a beneficial owner. According to Section 10-304 of the Business Occupations and Professions Article, an attorney expeditiously shall deposit trust money into an attorney trust account. Furthermore, Section 10-306 of the Business Occupations and Professions Article provides that [a] lawyer may not use trust money for any purpose other than the purpose for which the trust money is entrusted to the lawyer. The evidence adduced at the hearing established that Mr. Zuckerman often represented clients in divorce, criminal, and bankruptcy matters. He admitted to th is Court, and the hearing court below, that in those cases he would charge clients a flat fee, which was paid in advance of the services rendered, usually on or shortly before the day of trial, and then deposit it into Mr. Zuckerman s operating account. As such, he would deposit the funds into his operating account as if he already had earned them rather than properly placing the -34- funds into his trust account in contravention of the purpose for which they were entrusted. Thus, we agree with the hearing judge s conclusions that such practices violate Sections 10304 and 10-306 of the Business Occupations and Professions Article, as well as, MRPC 1.15(a). See Blum, 373 Md. at 298, 818 A.2d at 23 3; McLa ughlin, 372 Md. at 503-04, 813 A.2d a t 1166- 670. Zuckerman also committed violations of 1.15(a) and Section 10-306 of the Business Occupations and Professions Article when he disbursed funds to his clients from his trust account before the ir settlement checks had been deposited into the trust account, thereby providing funds belonging to one clie nt to another. The record establishes that this was a routine practice in Zuckerman s office and on occasion months would lapse before the settlement checks fo r the clients would b e deposited into the trust ac count. Ac cording to Zuckerman s testimony, he would write the checks so long as there were funds av ailable in the trust account without regard to which client s funds were in the account to cover the checks. We hav e held that su ch a failure to maintain the integrity of client funds violates Section 10-30 6. See Glenn, 341 M d. at 481 -82, 67 1 A.2d at 479- 80. 3. MRPC 5.3 (a) and (b) The hearing judge found that Mr. Zuckerman had violated MRPC 5.3(a) and (b) because he did not have reasonable measures in place to ensure that h is trust accoun t had all of the funds on deposit for clients to whom he was holding money. Respo nsibilities Reg arding N onlawyer A ssistants, prov ides in releva nt part: With respect to a nonlawyer employed or retained by or -35- Rule 5.3, associated with a lawyer (a) a partner in the law firm shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm has in e ffect mea sures giving reasonab le assurance that the person's conduct is compatible with the profession al obligations of the law yer; (b) a lawyer having direct superv isory authority over the nonlawyer shall make reasonab le efforts to ensu re that the pers on's conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer . . . . Respondent delegated the task of balancing the trust account to one of his employees, Stacy Kohler, and her job was to reconcile the bank statements against the check stubs for the trust account. Respondent testified that Stacy Kohler had not finished [balancing the trust account] b ecause sh e was do ing other things, and that the bank statem ents usually would come in within two weeks of the date that appeared on them, but that sometimes a month or two wo uld pass without the statements being reviewed. He further admitted that checks were written on funds that had not been deposited in the bank and on March 16, 2000, the trust a ccoun t had a n egative balanc e of w hich he was u nawa re. We concur w ith the hearing judge that respondent did not instruct his employees of the proper management of the trust account and inform him self of the sta tus of his employees efforts to monitor the funds in the account. Such a failure to oversee his employees tasks constitutes a violation of MRP C 5.3(a) an d (b) becau se Mr. Z uckerma n did not make reasonable efforts to ensure that his employees conduct complied with his own professional obligations. We have held that had the respondent exercised a reasonable degree of supervision over [his employee], he might have detected [the employee s] error before any ethical proscriptions had been violated unde r Rule 5 .3. Glenn, 341 Md. at 481, 671 A.2d at 479 (quoting Attorney Grievan ce Comm n v. Dacy, 313 Md. 1, 5, 542 A.2d 841, -36- 843 (1 988)). 4. MRPC 8.4(d) Judge Prevas found that Respondent s repeated failure to pay either clients or medical providers as he was required to do was conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of MRPC 8.4(d). We have found violations of Rule 8.4(d) when the lawyer misappropriated client fun ds or misused his or h er trust accou nt. See Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Brown, 380 Md. 661, 846 A.2d 428 (2004) (misappropriation of client funds); Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Gallagher, 371 Md. 673, 810 A.2d 996 (2002) (misappropriation of client fun ds); Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Santos, 370 Md. 77, 803 A.2d 505 (2002) (co mminglin g client fun ds into ope rating acco unt); Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Powe ll, 369 M d. 462, 800 A.2d 782 (2002) (m isuse of attorney trust account); Attorney Grievance Comm n v. McCoy, 369 Md. 226, 798 A.2d 1132 (2002) (commingling of client funds); Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Snyder, 368 Md. 242, 793 A.2d 515 (2002) (misuse of trust account); Attorney G rievance C omm n v. Hollis, 347 Md. 547, 702 A.2d 223 (1997 ) (misap propria tion of c lient fun ds). In this case, Mr. Zuckerman misused his trust account, commingled client fund s in his operating account a nd comm ingled client f unds in the trust account. We agree with the hearing judge that such actions constitute conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justic e in viola tion of R ule 8.4( d). SANCTIONS As we recently stated in Attorney Grievance Comm n of Maryland v. Goodman, 381 Md. 480, 850 A.2d 1157 (2004), the appropriate sanction for a violation of the MRPC -37- depends on the facts and circumstances of each ca se, including consideration of any mitigating factors . Id. at 496, 850 A.2d at 1167; Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Awuah II, 374 Md. 505, 526 , 823 A.2d 651 , 663 (2003); Attorney G rievance C omm n v. McC lain, 373 Md. 196, 211, 817 A.2d 218, 227 (2003). Primarily, we seek to protect the public, to deter other lawyers from eng aging in vio lations of the Maryland R ules of Pro fessional C onduct, and to main tain the in tegrity of th e legal p rofessi on. Awuah II, 374 Md. at 526, 823 A.2d at 663 (quoting Blum, 373 Md. at 303, 818 A.2d at 236). To achieve the goal of protecting the public, we impose a sanction that is commensurate with the nature and gravity of the violations and the intent with which they were committed. Id. To assist us in determining what would be appropriate, we have reviewed the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions : Along with our own cases as precedent in determining the appropriate sanction, it is helpful for us to refer to the ABA Standards. These stan dards crea te an organizational fram ework that calls for a consideration of four questions: (1) What is the nature of the ethical duty violated; (2) What was the lawyer s mental state; (3) What was the extent of the actual or potential injury caused by the lawyer s misconduct; (4) Are there any aggravating or mitigating circumstances? Glenn, 341 Md. at 484, 671 A.2d at 480 (citing Standard 3.0 of the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawye r Sanct ions, reprinted in Selected Statutes, Rules and Standards on the Legal Profession 301 (1 987)). Petitioner has recommended that we impose an indefinite suspension with the right to apply for reinstatement no earlier than two years, while Mr. Zuckerman advocates that he should receive a reprimand. W e have held that the sanc tion for misappropriation of client funds is disbarment absent compelling extenuating circumstances justifying a lesser sanction, -38- see James, __ Md. at __, __ A.2d at __ ; Attorney Grievance v. Sperling, 380 Md. 180, 19192, 844 A.2 d 397, 40 4 (2004); Attorney G rievance C omm n v. Smith, 376 Md. 202, 237, 829 A.2d 56 7, 588 (20 03); Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Spery, 371 Md. 560, 568, 810 A.2d 487, 491-92 (200 2); Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Vanderlinde, 364 Md. 376, 410, 773 A.2d 463, 483 (2001); however, [w]here there is no finding of intentional misappropriation . . . and where the misconduct did not result in financial loss to any of the respond ent s clients, an inde finite su spensio n ordin arily is the a pprop riate san ction. Sperling, 380 Md. at 191-92, 844 A.2d at 404 (quoting Attorney Grievance Comm n v. DiCicco, 369 Md. 662, 687, 802 A.2d 1014, 1028 (2002)); see also Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Seiden, 373 Md. 409, 424-25, 8 18 A.2d 1108, 11 17 (2003 ); Attorney G rievance Comm n v. Jeter, 365 Md. 279, 293, 778 A.2d 39 0, 398 (20 01); Awuah I, 346 Md. at 43 5-36, 697 A.2d at 45 4. In this regard we have stated, Although ignorance does not excuse a violation of disciplinary rules, a finding with respect to the intent with which a violation was committed is relevant on the issue of the appropriate sanc tion. This is consistent with the purp ose of a disciplinary proceeding . . . . Spery, 371 Md. at 568, 810 A.2d at 491-92 (quoting Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Awuah I, 346 M d. 420, 4 35, 697 A.2d 4 46, 454 (1997 ). We have not previously addressed the appropriate sanction where there was a misappropriation of trust account funds based upon the lawyer s ineffectual accounting procedures and theft of funds by an employee. This Court has issued sanctions ranging from a reprimand to an indefinite suspension with a right to reapply after ninety days when the lawyer s conduct did not amount to an intentional misappropriation. See Sperling, 380 Md. at 193, 844 A.2d at 405 (imposing an indefinite suspension with the right to reapply after -39- ninety days for violations of MRPC 1.15, 8.4 and Maryland Code, Section 10-306 of the Business Occupations and Professions Article where the attorney created an unintentional shortfall in his trust acco unt, none of the clients suffered as a result, but the attorney had a prior disciplinary reco rd and acte d with significant d elay in bringing the trust acco unt into balance); Stolarz, 379 Md. at 405, 842 A.2d at 52-53 (holding that attorney s unintentional failure to notify the creditor bank of his client s receipt of the settlement funds did not warrant imposition of discipline, but rather a dismissal and a w arning); Seiden, 373 Md. at 425, 818 A.2d at 1117 (imposing a thirty-day suspension with the right to reapply for violations of MRPC 1.1, 1.15(a), 8.4(a), and 8.4(d) because the attorney improperly obtained his fee from his escrow account after depositing settlement funds, but was remorseful, had no previous disciplinary action against him, and the conduct resulted from representing a difficult client); McCla in, 373 Md. at 212, 817 A.2d at 229 (imposing a thirty-day suspension for violations of MRPC 1.15 and Maryland Code, Section 16-606 of the Business Occupations and Professions Article w here the attor ney negligen tly failed to design ate his escrow account as an attorney trust account and failed to hold a bidder s deposit from a foreclosure sale, but there w as an abse nce of inte ntional misc onduct, he took a cou rse in escrow account m anagem ent, and ha d no prior d isciplinary record ); Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Culver, 371 Md. 265, 284, 808 A.2d 1251, 1262 (2002) (imposing a thirty-day suspension for violations of MRPC 1.5(c) and Maryland Rule 16-607(b)(2) where the attorney failed to reduce a c ontingenc y fee modif ication to w riting and un intentionally commingled funds when he attempted to resolve a fee dispute with clients instead of disbursing his portion o f the settleme nt proceed s to himself); DiCicco, 369 Md. at 688, 802 -40- A.2d at 1028 (im posing an indefinite su spension w ith the right to reapply afte r ninety da ys for violations of MRPC 1.15(a) and (c), and 8.4 w here the attorney negligently administered his trust account, but there was an absence of fraudulent intent, the attorney had no previous disciplinary problems and the clien ts suffered no financ ial loss); Adams, 349 Md. at 98-99, 706 A.2d at 1086 (imposing a thirty-day suspension for violations of MRPC 1.15 and Maryland Rule 16-604 where the lawyer improperly used client funds to pay the client s tax obligations prior to depositing the funds into a trust account, but the conduct was unintention al, he had no prio r disciplin ary history, and the monie s subsequ ently were pa id to the Comptroller). Several courts from other jurisdictions addressing specific instances of misappropriation of funds due to poor administration of trust funds and theft by an employee have imposed sanctions varying from thirty-day to s ix-mon th susp ension s. See In the Matter Marsh all, 498 S.E.2d 869, 882 (S.C. 1998) (imposing a six-month suspension for violations resulting from the attorney s delegation of the office s financial affairs to office manager with no supervision, which contributed to manager s embezzlement of client trust fund ); Office of Disciplina ry Coun sel v. Ball, 618 N.E.2d 159, 162 (Ohio 1993) (imposing a sixmonth susp ension for attorney s f ailur e to supervise secr etary w ho misappropriated client funds over a ten-year period); Louisiana State Bar Association v. Keys, 567 So.2d 588, 593 (La. 1990) (imposing a thirty-day suspension for lawyer s negligent supervision of client funds where the lawyer s secretary misap propriated the funds); In the Matter of Scanlan, 697 P.2d 1084, 1087-88 (Ariz. 1985) (imposing a ninety-day suspension on attorney for failing to exercise minimal care over client trust accounts, and negligently allowing employee to -41- embezz le trust account f unds); In re Privette , 582 P.2d 804, 805-06 (N.M. 1978) (imposing a five-mon th suspens ion with p rovision fo r a twelve-m onth prob ationary period for attorney s negligent handling of client trust funds and failure to supervise employee who embe zzled c lient fun ds). In fashioning a sanction, we are mindful of the fact that mitigating factors should be considered, including [A]bsence of a prior disciplinary record; absence of a dishonest or selfish motive; personal or emotional problems; timely good faith efforts to make restitution or to rectify consequences of miscond uct; full and free disclosure to disciplinary board or cooperative attitude towards proceedings; inexperience in the practice of law; character or reputation; physical or mental disability or impairm ent; delay in discip linary proceedings; interim rehabilitation; im position of other penalties or sanctions; remors e; and f inally, rem otenes s of prio r offen ses. Glenn, 341 Md. at 488-89, 671 A.2d at 483. Judge Prevas found several of those to be comp elling in the pres ent case . Mr. Zuckerman has been a member of the Bar of this State since 1974 and has no prior disciplinary record. Once he learned of the theft of the trust account, he notified Bar Counsel immediately and fully cooperated during the investigation by providing full disclosure of his ban k statemen ts and recor ds pertaining to his trust a ccoun t. Moreover, there is no evidence that Mr. Zuckerman acted with an inte nt to steal mo ney, nor did he benefit personally from the misappropriation of the funds. When he became aware of M s. Becker s theft, Mr. Zuckerman closed the then existing trust account and transferred the remaining funds to a new acc ount. He also repaid the stolen monies, and none of his clients suffered any financial loss as a result of the theft. In addition, the hearing judge f ound that Mr. -42- Zuckerman had significant stresses during the time when the theft occurred, namely that he had been rece ntly divorced, h is former w ife had die d leaving h im with the sole resp onsibility of caring for his pre-teen son, and that he had been suffering from injuries due to a car accident. Mr. Zuckerman also voluntarily participated in psychological counseling and had implemented a com pute rized acco unting sys tem to maintain his trust account to Bar Coun sel s satis faction . These mitigating factors lead us to believe that an appropriate sanction would be an indefinite suspensio n with the right to reapply a fter thirty d ays. See Seiden, 373 Md. at 425, 818 A.2 d at 1117; Culver, 371 M d. 265 a t 284, 80 8 A.2d at 1262 . IT IS SO ORDERED; RESPONDENT SHALL PAY ALL COSTS AS TAXED BY THE CLERK OF THIS COURT, INCLUDING C O S T S O F A L L TRA N S C R I P T S, PURSUANT TO MARYLAND RULE 16715(C), FOR WHICH SUM JUDGM ENT IS ENTERED IN FAVOR OF THE ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION. -43- IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MARYLAND Misc. Docket AG No. 21 September Term, 2004 ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION v. CHARLES J. ZUCKERMAN Bell, C.J. Raker Wilner Cathell Harrell Battaglia Greene, JJ. Dissenting Opinion by Harrell, J. Filed: April 13, 2005 I dissent because I do not believe the sanction imposed in the Majo rity opinion is comme nsurate with our treatment of past cases involving misconduct most analogous to that present in this case. In s hort, the M ajority s minimu m sit-out time for the Respo ndent is too sho rt in dura tion. As a foundational point of reference, it bears repeating that [t]he purpose of these proceedings is not to punish the lawyer, but any sanction im posed should de ter other lawyers from engaging in similar misconduct. Attorney Grievan ce Comm n v. Stolarz, 379 Md. 387, 402, 842 A.2d 42, 50 (2004) (citing Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Mooney, 359 Md. 56, 96, 753 A.2d 17 , 38 (2000 )). We prote ct the public b y preventing future attorney misconduct only when th e sanctions imposed are commensurate with the nature and gravity of the violations and the intent with which they were committed. Id. (citing Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Awuah, 346 M d. 420, 4 35, 697 A.2d 4 46, 454 (1997 )). The determination of what sanction is commensurate is made often (but not excl usiv ely) by contrasting and comparing the case at hand with prior cases of varying degrees of similarity. My review of more recent attorney grievance cases sharing similar characteristics to the present one indicates that a more string ent sanction is more ap propriate than is imposed by the Majo rity opinion, both to deter generally other lawyers from similar misconduct and to deter specifically an individ ual law yer from future t ransgre ssions. Attorney Grievance Comm n v. DiCicco, 369 Md. 662, 686, 802 A.2d 1014, 1027 (2002) (quoting Attorney Grievan ce Com m n v. G arfield, 369 Md. 85, 98, 797 A.2d 757, 764 (2002) (citations omitted)). In Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Sperling, 380 Md. 180, 844 A.2d 397 (2004), we ordered an indefinite suspension with a right to re-apply no soone r than ninety days. In Sperling, a $42,415.91 shortfall in the attorney s trust account was discovered. We held that Sperling violated Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) 1.15 (Safeguarding prop erty) and 8.4 (a) (Misconduct), and § 10-306 of the Business Occupations and Professions Article, Md. Code (1989, 2000 R epl. Vol.), du e to his failure to reconcile h is trust accoun t. No client complaints instigated the investigation. The misappropriation was deemed unintention al. There was no evidence of any theft of funds by anyone, no evidence of client loss from the shortfall of funds, and no additional errors were discovered after the initial shortfa ll. Id. at 185, 8 44 A.2 d at 400 . Although we took into consideration as mitigation in Sperling that the misappro priation was unintentional, the attorney s remorse, and his cooperation with Bar Counsel (to correct the shortfall and accountin g problem s in his practice), we noted that the shortfall w as quite serious because it w as in particular one so large. Id. at 192, 844 A.2d at 404. In assessing Sperling s sanction, we acknowledged Bar Counsel s warning that Sperling s failure to manage his attorney trust account for several years exposed his clients to risk over that lengthy period. In addition, Bar Counsel argued that the length of tim e from M ay 2002 to January 2003 between when Sperling became aware of the shortfall and when he corrected the balance supported a sanction of indefinite suspension, with a right to reapply no sooner than six months. In settling instead on a ninety day minimum sit-out period, we also rejected Sperling s request for a reprimand, in part because, in a similar set of circumstances, an attorney without a prior disciplinary history in another case received an indefinite suspension -2- with a right to reapply no sooner than ninety da ys. Id. at 192-93, 844 A.2d at 405 (citing Attorney Grievance Comm n v. DiCicco, 369 Md. 662 , 802 A.2d 102 4 (2002)). We suspended DiCicco for numerous violations of MRPC 1.15 (a) and 8.4(a) after he repeatedly used his attorney escrow account for his personal interests.1 Attorney Grievance Comm n v. DiCicco, 369 Md. 662, 675-76, 802 A.2d 1024, 10 27 (2002). The hearing judge in DiCicco noted that there were at least eleven instances of misconduct involving different clients (unexplained low and negative balances from 1997 to 1999) and disbursement checks from DiCicco s attorney trust account that appeared to be unrelated to any of his clients matters. Id. at 670-71, 802 A.2d at 1018-19. In ordering his indefinite suspension with a right to seek reinstatement no sooner than nine ty days, we considered several mitigating factors. Among them was a lack of evidence that any client suffered a financial loss fro m DiCicco s miscond uct, which misconduct lacked any fraudulent inten t. Id. at 688, 802 A.2d at 1028. We noted that DiCic co had no record of prior disciplinary problems in his then thirty-eight year mem bership in the M aryland B ar. Id. At the lesser end of the sanction spectrum from Sperling and DiCicco is Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Adams, 349 Md. 86, 706 A.2d 1080 (1998). In Adams, we reviewed an attorney s misconduct regarding his attorney operating account and involving b ut a single client. We ordered an indefin ite suspensio n with a right to reapply no sooner than thirty days. Adams represented his client bef ore the Co mptroller of the Treasu ry in negotiating an outstanding tax delin quenc y. Id. at 91, 706 A.2d at 1082. After settling on a $2,000.00 paym ent to the Com ptroller, Ada ms drafted a check f rom his attor ney operating account to 1 We also c oncluded that he violate d MR PC 1.15 (c) with reg ard to one c lient. -3- pay this amount. This check was returned for insufficient funds because Adams client had not given him $2,000.00 to pay the Comptroller and the attorney s operating account had a negative balance at the time the check was drafted. Adams subsequently received funds from the client, albeit in an amount insufficient to pay fully the negotiated tax bill. Adams deposited these funds into his operating account and supplemented them with money from sources unrelated to the particular client s representation. We held that Adams conduct violated MR PC 1.1 5(a) an d Ma ryland R ule 16- 604. In arriving at the appropriate sanction, we observed that Adams handling of the client s mone y was sl oppy an d neglig ent, bu t uninten tional. Id. at 98, 706 A.2d at 1086. We credited as mitigating factors Adams lack of a prior disciplinary record and that the funds provided by the client ultimately were receive d by the Comptroller. 2 Even further along the sanction spectrum is Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Stolarz, 379 Md. 387, 842 A.2d 42 (2004). In Stolarz, we held that an attorney, with no history of past disciplinary infractions before this Bar for twenty-three years, negligently violated MRPC 1.15 (b) w hen he fa iled to pay one creditor of a client $300.00 out of the client s settlement proceeds.3 Id. at 391- 94, 842 A.2d at 44-45. We observed that Stolarz s unintentional negligence (failing to note the assignmen t in the client s file when he disbursed the settlement proceeds; moreover, the client failed to draw his attention to the missing payment) may be 2 Ada ms forw arde d the $1,9 00.0 0 rec eive d fro m the clie nt to the C omp trolle r by a cashier s check four months and one day after the negotiated settlement occurred. Adams receive d the clie nt s fun ds one week after ne gotiatin g the tax delinqu ency settle ment. 3 Stolarz s client had assigned $300.00 of any personal injury settlement proceeds as collatera l for a lo an. -4- better disposed of, upon remand, by termination of the investigation with a warning to Respon dent, thereby deterrin g futur e, repea ted trans gressio ns. Id. at 405, 842 A.2d at 50. We noted that Stolarz made only one mistake (of a relatively small amount) with one client that impacted only one assignee of that client. Stolarz u ltimately paid the client s assignee from his ow n fund s and ex pressed remors e for his error. Id. Against this backdr op, I turn to the appropriate sanction in this case. Zuckerman was first alerted to the g ravity of his employee s misappropriation of funds in July of 2002 when he received an anonymous tip. His part-time investigation into the extent of the damage began in October 2002, but was not completed until August 2004. The investigation revealed impacts affecting s ixty clients. His resp onse to his own u nfortunate accounting practices and the theft was considerably slower than Sperling, who took only nine months to assess and correct the discrepancy there. Bar Counsel s independent investigation in Zuckerman s case uncovered 109 clients with negative balances between 1998 and 2002 indicating the widespread scope of the accounting problems from Zuckerman s irresponsible business practices. Many of these clients accountings had negative balances before Ms. Becker defrauded Zuckerman in May 2002. Arguably, if it were not for M s. Becker s theft, Zuckerman would have b een unaware of these ne gative client b alances in h is attorney trust accou nt and w ould ha ve con tinued h is impro vident c onduc t indefin itely. The sum total of funds at risk throughout this period was $311,898.11, based on checks drawn on his trust ac count to clien ts before funds b elonging to those clients w ere deposited in his trust account. This recipe for d isaster reached its nadir on 16 March 2000 when he disbursed $21,997.96 on b ehalf of thirty-four clients, at a time when he had a negative -5- account balance of $363.13. Zuckerman readily admitted that he issued client checks on an entitlemen t basis, rather than waiting for the settlement proceeds to be deposited and completion of the appropriate waivers and accounting statements. Although he periodic ally did no more than rob Peter to pay Paul, sometimes for short periods,4 he routinely advanced money rightfully belon ging to othe r clients to satisfy different clients he felt were entitled to their mone y. Zuckerm an s attempts at justifying this ongoing violation of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct regarding the safekeeping of client property are unavailing. Zuckerman, as a matter of routine practice, also did not distribu te funds in tim ely fashion to th ird party medical providers and thereby violated MRPC 1.15 (b). He claims as his defense that he did not pay these providers because he was waiting for personal injury protection insurance c overage iss ues to reso lve. This ro utine practice left at least $144,000.00 in limbo over a period of at least three years.5 In order to correct this situation, it too k Zu cker man until Decem ber 2 004 to pa y the m edic al provid ers th eir m oney.6 By comparison, in DiCicco we sanctioned the attorney for negligent transgressions that impacted perhaps eleven clients, witho ut a conclu sive holding as to the am ount of fu nds in question, by imposing an indefinite suspension with a right to reapply no sooner than ninety 4 Judge Prevas noted that Zuckerman s routine practice of loaning money from existing client accounts to pay entitled clients had resulted in loans ranging from thirteen days to 5 mon ths in du ration. 5 Ms. B ecker s tole app roxima tely this am ount fr om his attorney tru st accou nt. 6 Zuckerman also violated M RPC 1.1 (Co mpete nce), 1.3 (Dilige nce), 1.4 (Commu nication), 5.3 (a) & (b) (Respo nsibilities regard ing non lawyer a ssistants ), and 8.4 (Misconduct). In addition, Zuckerman violated Maryland Rule 16-607 and §§ 10-304 and 10-306 of the Business Occupations and Professions Article. Md. Code (2000, 20 04 Rep l. Vol.). -6- days. Sperling received the identical sanction, notwithstanding the lack of a specific holding as to the number of clients w hose fun ds were m isappropria ted neglige ntly, where his attorney escrow account had a $42,415.91 shortfall. In the present case, Zuckerman s unethical accounting practices im pacted at lea st one hundred fifty-five clients and third parties and endangered $311,898.11 of client trust money and at least $144,000 owed to third parties. Unlike Stolarz and Adams, where the unintentional transgressions involved only one client and in much smaller amounts ($300.00 and $2,000.00, respectively), Zuckerman s unintentional (negligent) misappropriations were of greater impact and scope.7 Lastly, I consid er the m itigating factors . Like DiCicco, Zuckerman has no history of prior disciplinary proceedings. Yet, having an unblemished record is not a salve that cure s all ills. It may have greater weight wh ere the transgres sions are m inor in scop e, apparen tly impact one clien t or only a few clients, and the misconduct may be characterized fairly as an isolated inciden t in a long career. See Stolarz, Adams, supra. When the misconduct of an attorney impacts potentially hundreds of clients and third parties and significant sums of mon ey, a lesser sanction, even though the attorney has a spotless disciplinary reco rd, hardly 7 Other cases re lied on by the M ajority in suppor t of an inde finite suspen sion with a right to reapply no sooner than thirty days are, upo n close exa mination, n ot compa rable to the facts in this case. They reflect instead a single client benchmark and involved ethical violations of lesse r magn itude tha n those comm itted by Zu ckerm an. Attorney Grievance Comm n v. Seiden, 373 Md. 409, 818 A.2d 1108 (2003) (violation of MRPC 1.1 (Competence), 1.15 (Saf ekeeping property), 8.4 (a) & (d) (Misco nduct) invo lved a single client where the attorney deducted a legal fee of $4,400.00 from estate funds without a Fee Petition to the Orphans Court or consent of the personal representative of the estate); Attorney Grievance C omm n v. Culver, 371 Md. 265, 283-84, 805 A.2d 1251, 1262 (2002) (violation of MRPC 1.5 (c) (Fees) and Maryland R ule 16-60 7 (b) (2) invo lving a single inciden t with o ne clien t and a f ee paid to the atto rney of $ 8,714.5 0). -7- seems commensurate as a general deterrent against similar conduct by other attorneys. DiCicco, 369 Md. at 686, 802 A.2d at 1028. If a sanction is to protect ge nerally the pub lic from future, similar transgressions by lawyers, it must encourage all lawyers, not just those who have prior d isciplinary record s, to account re sponsibly for th eir client trust accounts. An indefinite suspension with a right to reapply no sooner than nin ety days is the more appropriate sanction in the present case. -8-