Monday, September 24, 2012

Jonathan Shurberg's Law License Suspended In Maryland

Attorney used by Montgomery County suspended by appeals court

Shurberg also hired by state Democratic Party on redistricting

By Kate S. Alexander And Margie Hyslop Staff Writers

An election lawyer who has represented Montgomery County and the state Democratic Party in battles over two pending ballot questions will be suspended from practicing law after the election.

The Maryland Court of Appeals order suspending Jonathan S. Shurberg indefinitely allows him to apply for reinstatement after six months.

Shurberg, who, according to court documents, lives in Silver Spring, signed an agreement consenting to the suspension after an inquiry by the state's Attorney Grievance Commission found that he had misappropriated more than $16,600 of a client's money that was held in a trust.

The Court of Appeals issued an order accepting the agreement Sept. 11.

The commission's investigation found that Shurberg "failed to maintain funds for several clients, and failed to maintain appropriate trust account records, from 2007 until the present," the agreement says.

According to a memorandum supporting the suspension, Shurberg believed he was removing fees he had earned when he already had removed those fees from the account. Of the misappropriated funds, $10,593.46 was paid to Shurberg, the consent agreement states.

It also states that all funds have been replenished, that no clients were harmed by the misappropriation and that no client complained of any misconduct.

The memo also notes that Shurberg was distracted during much of the time when the misappropriation occurred, mostly between April 2007 and June 2009, because his wife, Rebecca Lord, was being treated for cancer in Chicago and Baltimore and that her condition continued to deteriorate this year while the complaint against Shurberg was pending.

Lord, who had worked for the County Council, died July 15.

"Obviously the fact that the Respondent had to deal with such a difficult situation contributed to the errors that occurred in this case," the memo stated.

The memo also notes that Shurberg told investigators that funds were in the trust account when they were not, and that, although he did not know his statement was wrong, "it was [his] duty to make accurate representation to Bar Counsel."

When contacted, Shurberg told The Gazette, "No comment."

Montgomery County government paid Shurberg more than $158,000 to challenge the county police union's petition to put a county law limiting police bargaining on the ballot.

Shurberg was hired in late 2011, and the County Council authorized challenging the police union petition challenge in February.

The county lost that battle last month when the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned a Circuit Court decision that ruled some of the necessary signatures invalid.

Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said that the County Council suggested challenging the police union petition and recommended Shurberg as the lawyer to handle it. The county attorney approved hiring him, Lacefield said.

"We didn't know anything about the charges until March; at that point, he was well into his work," Lacefield said.

Montgomery County Attorney Marc P. Hansen said that attorney grievance complaints are confidential so there was no way for the county to have known anything until March when it became a matter of court record.

Shurberg was licensed when he represented the county and "did a fine job," Hansen said.

He said the county chose to hire Shurberg because of his expertise in election law.

County Council president Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda said the council was not aware of Shurberg's legal or bookkeeping problems.

"None of us were aware," Berliner said. "He handled his business on behalf of the county with great distinction."

Berliner said the county no longer has a relationship with Shurberg because the case is concluded.

Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring was council president when Shurberg was hired.

Ervin, in speaking with The Gazette on Tuesday, said it was the first she had heard of the situation.

"I kind of feel bad for him, he just lost his wife, she just passed away," Ervin said. "So I don't know at what point this happened, but we haven't been briefed on this at all."

If the council had knowledge of any issues with Shurberg, Ervin said she didn't think it would have hired him.

Shurberg also represented the state's Democratic Party in its efforts to stop the congressional redistricting map from going to voters in a referendum. The map was drawn by Democrats to favor their candidates.

The Democratic Party's court challenges failed, and the party is working to defeat the initiative at the polls.

Maryland Democratic Party officials did not offer a comment on Tuesday.


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