ANNAPOLIS, APRIL 18 -- Montgomery County lawyer Robin Ficker, a former member of the House of Delegates, was reprimanded today by Maryland's highest court for violating state ethics rules for lawyers in connection with his representation of two clients.
At the same time, the Court of Appeals cleared Ficker, a well-known political gadfly who has run for school board and state Senate, of complaints that he violated another rule barring lawyers from placing false and misleading advertisements when he solicited clients in so-called "palimony" cases.
The court, upholding the findings of a Montgomery Circuit Court judge, said that Ficker failed to meet his responsibilities as a lawyer when he failed to show up at the separate 1986 trials of two clients charged with drunken driving in Frederick County. He further was guilty of neglect and "habitual violation" when he failed to submit court papers stating he was the lawyer of record in those cases, the court said.
According to court records, Ficker's law practice is made up primarily of drunken driving cases, of which he handles about 500 a year. The court records state that Ficker said he failed to appear at one of the trials because he forgot to write down the trial date on his calendar. In the other, he did not show up because he had assumed a motion to have the trial delayed had been granted and his client ended up pleading guilty without him there.
While Ficker had argued that he should not be penalized for his scheduling error, especially because he had refunded his client's $200 retainer, Judge William H. Adkins, writing for the court, disagreed. "Given the duty of zealous representation that a lawyer owes the client, we are not persuaded that a failure to appear caused by poor office practices or simple forgetfulness can never be neglect," Adkins wrote.
With regard to the advertisements Ficker took out in 1987 soliciting clients with the phrase, "Palimony Suits Against Wealthy Men," Adkins said the ads were tasteless but not unethical. "Bad taste . . . is not a synonym for misleading, nor does crassness necessarily equate false advertising," Adkins wrote.
Ficker refused to comment on the court's ruling today, but his attorney in the case, Stanley J. Reed, called it "a total vindication." The public reprimand was the second-lowest sanction the court could have imposed and less serious than the 60-day suspension of Ficker's license requested by the state Attorney Grievance Commission in 1988.
According to court documents, the commission was acting on complaints from an assistant state's attorney in the drunken driving cases and on tips from several Montgomery lawyers in regard to the advertisement.