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Hagerstown attorney disbarred for state rules violations

March 12, 2002|BY MARLO BARNHART

George E. "Chip" Snyder Jr., a Washington County attorney for 25 years, has been disbarred from the practice of law for violations of the Maryland rules of professional conduct.

The disbarment, announced last Thursday by the Maryland Court of Appeals, is effective immediately. A petition for disciplinary action had been filed to the state's highest court by the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland.

"It's over," said Snyder in a telephone interview Monday. "I fractured some rules and I ruffled some feathers over the years ... a lot of feathers, actually."

In its case against Snyder, the commission cited several incidents involving irregularities in client escrow accounts, how clients fees were collected and distributed, conflict of interest and how some payments were not returned to clients, according to court records.

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Attorneys who formerly worked in Snyder's law firm testified they were not paid commensurate with the hours they worked with clients while in the firm, court records said.

During a November 2000 hearing, Judge Patrick Woodward of Montgomery County Circuit Court heard testimony from witnesses and determined that Snyder had misappropriated client funds, charged excessive fees, and in one case, caused a client to spend a night in jail when Snyder failed to have her present for a court appearance, court records said.

Judge Lynn Battaglia, in her written opinion for the Maryland Court of Appeals, added that Snyder used client escrow accounts to "deliberately conceal personal assets from his creditors during the pendency of his involuntary bankruptcy" in 1993.

"This goes back 10 years to the breakup of Snyder and Poole," Snyder said Monday.

That parting of the ways between Snyder and the law firm of Bruce and David Poole was rife with allegations of fraud, the filing of lawsuits and final dissolution of the partnership.

"It's a sad time for me," Snyder said Monday. "But I'm mindful I was able to work with and provide a practice base for over a dozen lawyers over the years."

Snyder said he also was pleased to have served "thousands of clients over the past 25 years."

"It's been so rewarding to help so many ... I always put my clients first," Snyder said. "But I have always been better at the practice of law than the business of law."

One of the first attorneys to advertise heavily when restrictions against such practices were lifted in Maryland, Snyder also was involved in a number of private enterprises ranging from grocery stores to exercise clubs and a T-shirt business.

Snyder, 50, said he probably will go back to his second love after the law - marketing.

"I always loved the marketing side of my career," he said.

Through private counsel, Snyder sought a reprimand rather than disbarment, claiming the acts were "trivial, technical violations of the rules," court records said.

But Battaglia pointed out in her written opinion that Snyder previously had been "privately reprimanded" for failing to pay 401(k) contributions withheld from employee salaries within 90 days of deductions as required by law, court records said.

The court opted for disbarment because "it appears the earlier reprimand failed to serve its purpose ... and the public has suffered as a consequence," the court ruled.

A spokesman at the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland said Monday a disbarred attorney can seek reinstatement to the practice of law at a later date, depending on the circumstances of the disbarment.

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