Baltimore, MD – The new deputy director of Baltimore’s Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement resigned after the city’s biggest newspaper started asking questions about his disbarment last year.
Charles Byrd Jr. was hired in February by the office’s director, Jill Carter.
Carter told The Baltimore Sun she was aware that Byrd had been disbarred for misappropriating funds from his law firm’s accounts when she hired him, but said she didn’t feel the job required him to be barred.
“Being barred is not a requirement of the job,” Carter said.
“[Byrd] brings a whole lot of experience that we needed. He’s actually been a major asset and one of the most valuable additions since I’ve gotten here,” the director said.
Carter also said she believed “in second chances,” the Baltimore Sun reported.
Court records showed her deputy director was disbarred in April of 2017 for misappropriating funds in his private law firm’s attorney trust account “for his personal use and benefit,” according to the Baltimore Sun.
Byrd said none of his clients lost any money and that he’d agreed to be disbarred because he was the firm’s managing partner and he had planned to retire anyway, the Baltimore Sun reported.
His disbarment did not involve any criminal charges.
“There were no criminal components to the disbarment, no criminal charges were filed,” Carter said. “So there was no reason he couldn't be hired.”
Byrd agreed to be disbarred “by consent” so there’s no record of litigation for the case.
However, Byrd and the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland jointly filed a petition that outlined the basic allegations in the case, the Baltimore Sun reported.
The petition said that Byrd “acknowledged that he was primarily responsible for the management and reconciliation of his firm’s attorney trust account, and that he misappropriated funds belonging to his law firm for his personal use and benefit.”
Trust accounts hold client retainers or settlements awaiting distribution that may be due to the attorneys eventually, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The investigation was initiated after Bank of America alerted the Office of Bar Counsel of an overdraft on the trust account, according to the petition.
At least $50,000 in firm funds were misappropriated, the petition said. Byrd acknowledged in the petition that he understood “sufficient evidence could be produced to sustain allegations of professional misconduct” if the matter were to be adjudicated in the courtroom.
Carter told the Baltimore Sun that she had a “limited understanding of the specifics” of the case that resulted in Byrd’s disbarment.
A University of Baltimore law professor said that allegations of mismanagement of trust accounts were considered very serious in nature by the bar.
“Financial management of client and other funds that don’t belong to the lawyer is absolutely crucial for attorney practice,” Professor Robert Rubinson said. “Given that client funds need to be maintained in these accounts and a detailed accounting needs to be maintained as well, if there is an overdraft, something is wrong.”
The Baltimore Sun reported the Byrd had represented both plaintiffs and defendants in a broad array of discrimination lawsuits and other civil matters during his legal career.
Byrd also represented victims of excessive force and false arrest by police, and has defended Baltimore police officers against excessive force claims.
He served as vice president of the National Bar Association, the nation's largest network of African-American attorneys and judges, and came highly recommended by numerous prominent figures in Baltimore, Carter told the Baltimore Sun.
Byrd resigned on Tuesday because “he didn’t want his past to be a distraction to the important work of the Office of Civil Rights,” Carter told the Baltimore Sun.
Carter was sworn into the Maryland state Senate on Friday to fill the vacated seat of Nathaniel Oakes. She told the Baltimore Sun she does not intend to give up her position as director of the civil rights office.