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'Overwhelmed' attorney suspended

April 19, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

A Hagerstown attorney who became "overwhelmed in solo private practice" and failed to serve three clients has been suspended from the practice of law for at least 60 days, according to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

The suspension of Mark Patrick Brugh, an attorney with offices at 138 W. Washington St., goes into effect May 14.

Brugh can apply for reinstatement 60 days from May 14 if certain requirements are met, including the repayment of $5,490 in unearned legal fees from three clients, according to the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission, which filed the petition against Brugh.

Retired Judge Fred Thayer, who presided over a hearing last October, heard testimony that Brugh accepted employment and retainer fees from the three clients, then neglected their cases and failed to communicate with them.

Thayer found that Brugh, who opened a solo practice in 1994, was unable to keep a secretary, left mail unopened and didn't answer telephone calls.

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"He avoided clients, often either sitting in the office with the lights turned off and the door locked or merely driving around Hagerstown aimlessly," Thayer found in his ruling.

Personal problems were a factor during 1996-97, Thayer said in his ruling.

Brugh was evaluated by three psychiatrists whose diagnoses ranged from adjustment disorder to major depression, according to the court records.

Faced with this conflicting evidence, Thayer found that Brugh had an adjustment disorder because of information that he served some clients and continued teaching two courses at Hagerstown Community College.

In May 1997, Brugh began paying more attention to his practice and to function better all around, Thayer said. That corresponded with his resumption of antidepressant medication and regular therapy.

Thayer said he found Brugh to be genuinely remorseful.

In a written statement issued Monday, Brugh said he was sorry to all he hurt, particularly his clients.

"Depression is a difficult illness to identify and cope with or manage. In the spring of 1997, my practice came to a near standstill. I tried to work despite my condition, which had not been diagnosed," he said in the statement.

"Not knowing or being able to recognize the symptoms made the situation worse, and there were things I did not do which should have been done. If I had known in the spring of 1997 what I know now, I could have taken steps to stop any harm to others.

"It is a great relief to me that this matter is concluded. I am well now and continue in monthly therapy. My practice is going well and has been for some time.

"I will remain in active practice until May 14 and hope to return to the practice of law in mid-July," the statement said.

Brugh had asked for a reprimand rather than a suspension.

But Thayer wrote in his ruling that "it is a serious matter when an attorney neglects a case and fails to keep a client informed."

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