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Former Drinker Biddle Partner Disbarred for Falsifying D.C. Bar Application

The Maryland Court of Appeals disbarred Darlene H. Smith, a former partner in the Washington D.C. law firm of  Drinker Biddle & Reath for altering documents as part of her application for admission to the D.C. Bar. The court’s opinion was released on Monday, March 19, 2012, and can be found at http://mdcourts.gov/opinions/coa/2012/10a11ag.pdf.

Ms. Smith was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1997 and was admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, but was never a member of the D.C. Bar.  Smith initially worked as a judicial clerk for the Chief Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.  She subsequently practiced law at a number of firms in the District of Columbia and Maryland, including as a solo practitioner, before she joined the firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath in December 2008 as a partner in the labor and employment practice group.  Although Smith had practiced law for over 10 years, she had never sought admission to the D.C. bar until January 2009, when she formally applied for admission. Under D.C.local rules, she was allowed to practice in the District of Columbia federal court as long as she made certain disclosures that her practice was limited to the federal court and Maryland courts only. She was also allowed to practice for a year in D.C. under the supervision of a D.C. licensed attorney, assuming she applied to the D.C. Bar within 90 days of starting her practice in the District.

When asked by the Committee on Admissions, whether she had complied with the requirements of D.C. Rule 49 regarding notice to the public, Smith stated that she did and submitted to the Committee on Admissions altered documents such as business cards, promotional materials and letterhead from her firm, of Drinker Biddle & Reath, as well as three of her previous law firms’ letterhead, spanning a decade, that included legends stating that she had been admitted only in Maryland and that she limited herself to federal practice. These disclosures did not appear on the original versions of those documents and were altered by Smith shortly before she submitted them to the Admissions Committee.

Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Robert McDonald wrote in the court’s opinion that Smith’s actions involved “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation.”  “The obstruction of a bar inquiry through the submission of fabricated evidence by an experienced member of the bar is an instance of dishonesty that incorporates a number of factors that we have deemed aggravating,” McDonald wrote.  Noting that Smith’s misconduct was a detailed scheme involving fraud, Judge McDonald wrote, “[t]he nature of the violation, coupled with the aggravating factors, makes disbarment appropriate.”

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