On Tuesday, July 18, 2023, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals Board on Professional Responsibility recommended the disbarment of attorney Bruce A. Johnson, Jr. after alleged misconduct involving mishandling of IOLTA accounts.

The case is entitled “In the matter of Bruce A. Johnson, Jr.” with case no. 20-BD-020.

The charges cited District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15(a)(e), 1.5(b), 1.16(d), 8.1(b), and 8.4(d) which states:

Record-keeping and reckless misappropriation.

Written statement of the fee.

Failure to promptly return property or unearned fees.

Serious interference with the administration of justice.

The Rules of Professional Conduct can be found here.

According to a report and recommendation issued by the Ad Hoc Hearing Committee on September 30, 2021, Johnson, Jr. was accused of engaging in misconduct based on three specific charges. These charges were related to his actions concerning two separate client matters and his handling of the IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts) trust account.

The report and recommendation highlight various instances of professional misconduct by the respondent. It is noted that the respondent displayed a lax attitude toward ensuring that retainer agreements sent to clients were properly signed and returned. This lack of diligence was evident in the fact that he was unwilling to allocate staff resources to follow up on these agreements. Despite sending out retainer proposals, the respondent’s focus appeared to be on proceeding with cases rather than managing procedural details related to client agreements.

The report also reveals that the respondent failed to discuss with a client, Ms. Carlos, how he would handle advanced flat fees or inform her about his intention to withdraw fees based on time spent, without obtaining her explicit permission. In a separate case, the respondent admitted to taking funds from clients’ trust accounts without the appropriate authorization, and in some instances, not refunding these unauthorized withdrawals until a considerable period later.

Furthermore, the respondent did not respond adequately to a draft specification provided by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC), which outlined allegations of misconduct related to his handling of clients’ funds and his lack of proper record-keeping. Overall, the report underscores multiple instances of professional and ethical violations by the respondent.

The Hearing Committee had concluded that Johnson, Jr’s misconduct was very serious. It stated that negligent misappropriation was a serious lapse because it tended to jeopardize client funds held in trust and undermined public confidence in the bar. The Hearing Committee had considered that protecting the clients and the judicial system was a principal function of the disciplinary system, and this particular factor had been the most significant among all those contributing to the sanction recommendation.

The reason for this had been that Johnson, Jr.’s violations of the rules were directly related to fundamental aspects of legal practice. These included having proper retainer agreements, effectively managing trust funds, promptly returning unearned fees and client files upon termination of representation, and fully cooperating with disciplinary investigations conducted by ODC.

The report and recommendation concluded:

“For the reasons set forth above, the Hearing Committee recommends that Respondent should be suspended from the practice of law for a period of sixteen months pursuant to D.C. Bar Rule XI, § 3(a)(2).”

In relation to the recommendation of the Hearing Committee, the Board found that Johnson, Jr. was indeed liable for the violations of the abovementioned Rules of Professional Conduct, and thereby needs to be sanctioned appropriately. However, according to the Board, as a result of the reckless misappropriation of client funds, disbarment is the recommended sanction, unless extraordinary circumstances can be proven, which Johnson, Jr failed to do.

The Disposition states:

“For the reasons discussed above, we find that Respondent violated Rules 1.15(a) and (e) (record-keeping and reckless misappropriation), 1.5(b) (written statement of fees), 1.16(d) (failure to promptly return property or unearned fees), 8.1(b) (knowing failure to respond reasonably to Disciplinary Counsel’s legal request for information), and 8.4(d) (serious interference with the administration of justice) and recommend disbarment.”

Mr. Johnson practices in Bowie, Maryland. He is licensed in Maryland and the District of Columbia with license no. 445925. His info can be found on avvo.com.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.