The Court of Appeals suspended an attorney for 60 days for waling out of the courtroom as a protest tactic after the court declined to approve a “STET” disposition for his client.
In that decision, AGC v. Usiak, the Court of Appeals warned the Bar that similar conduct int he future could justify an outright disbarment. If you have a Maryland law license, or want one, you better read this case.
What makes me sick for the attorney who got suspended is that his argument – that a court “must” enter a stet on the motion of the State – is clearly bogus. Rule 4-248 states that the Court – get ready for the auxillary verb – “MAY” postpone the case indefinitely and mark the file “stet”, Latin for “may it stand” or “let it stand.” A motion is a request for an order; this order may, but need not be, granted on request of the State. It is true that the case cannot be stetted over the objection of the Defendant, but the Defendant has the power only to prevent, not compel, a stet.
The attorney’s failure to RTFR – read the full rule – led to his contempt (later overturned) and ultimately to his near-disbarment, as did his willingness to mock the authority of the bench. I really don’t know what to say in the face of this pompously perfectly awful fact pattern and result. I am just speechless.
I am no expert on the rules, but I recall learning this rule on a couch at Ze Mean Bean in Fells Point in the hideous hot summer of 1995, when I was a new admittee desperately seeking to avoid screwing up. I lived on top of my office that summer and had no air conditioning; I spent the weekend days drinking iced coffee, a habit I have not forsaken in the intervening decade and a half. I would order an iced coffee and spend the day highlighting the rules with a red highlighter, bit by bit, line by line, with an intensity and frankly a fear that I did not always have in law school.
In law school, maybe Professor Throckmonger might embarrass you if your studies were not up to snuff; in court, the stakes were real and I was afraid as a “green attorney” of making professional mistakes. So yes, I know exactly where I was when I learned what that unfortunate attorney did not learn in time: no judge can be compelled to stet a case in Maryland. But if you don’t have enough sense not to expect severe blowback from a judge if you show her or him your backside and let the door close behind you, you are not only a fool, but a damn fool, whether you’ve memorized the Maryland Rules or not.