On Monday, Bradley Schwartz, a well-known Montgomery County civil litigation practitioner, received a 5 year sentence issued by Circuit Court Judge Steven G. Salant for misappropriation of more than $1 million in client funds. The sentence marks the end of a tumultuous story that involves gambling addiction, Chinese email/collection fraud well-known to the legal community, and overall poor judgment. As reported in today’s Washington Post, Judge Salant called the case “a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions” and issued a sentence longer than recommended by the state guidelines. “I want to make it very clear that most of the 35,000 some-odd attorneys in the state of Maryland are very hard working men and women who are honest and ethical. . . . It hurts me to think that when the community, when the public, looks at us, they’re going to be looking at what the defendant did here.”
It is unlikely Schwartz will serve out the entire 5 year sentence as he will be eligible for early parole as a nonviolent offender within 15 months.
As Schwartz’s gambling debt mounted, he began to use client funds from his escrow account, which constitutes clear misappropriation of client funds under the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct and results in automatic disbarment. After the Attorney Grievance Commission was notified by M&T Bank of bounced client escrow checks as Schwartz attempted to repay clients using money allegedly sent from the Chinese collection scam,Schwartz’s records were audited. During the investigation, he fled to South America but kept in touch with bar counsel and cooperated with a confession, letters of apology to his affected clients,and agreed to disbarment by consent. He returned to Maryland to face criminal prosecution.