A Baltimore lawyer who was a former assistant federal prosecutor and one-time deputy director of the Legal Aid Bureau had his law license suspended yesterday by the Court of Appeals.
Michael G. Middleton, in private practice since 1988, received a suspension of at least three years. In a 16-page opinion, the state's top judges said he was incompetent in representing several criminal defendants and he had been found in criminal contempt last November for lying to a Baltimore County judge to win a delay for a trial.
In that instance, Middleton maintained he mistakenly believed he was ordered to be in a Baltimore City court on an unrelated case - not just on standby - and so asked the county judge for a postponement, according to the opinion. Middletown was placed in January on three years supervised probation with an 18-month prison term suspended. Conditions of probation included surrendering his law license for a year and undergoing alcohol and drug counseling.
In yesterday's 5-2 ruling, the Court of Appeals majority wrote that his handling of one case was so troubling that prosecutors agreed the defendant deserved a new trial, that the judge in another case felt he was so ill-prepared that she delayed the trial, that he failed to show up for another trial, and that three times a judge told his clients that "they should obtain other counsel."
The two dissenting judges, Irma S. Raker and Dale R. Cathell, wanted Middleton disbarred for "repeated misconduct and incompetence." He has had two reprimands, one in 1996 and one in 1998.
Whether the suspension will lead to a flurry of requests by Middleton's former clients for new trials based on claims of poor representation by him is unknown.
Middleton said yesterday that he was "shocked" at the Court of Appeals ruling against him. But he had not seen the top court's opinion and said he could not comment on what it said.
He said he had hoped for a chance to present evidence to the court.
But according to the court's ruling, he had chances but neither responded to the allegations nor appeared at the city court hearings for his case.