City housing lawyer battles disbarment attempt Case involves taxes in private practice

December 03, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

The Court of Appeals is considering whether to disbar a lawyer for the city housing authority for failure to pay withholding taxes when she was in private practice.

The lawyer, Sheila Brooks-Tahir, has worked as a litigator for the authority for six months. Before that, she was a contract employee of the city solicitor's office for a brief period.

City officials declined to comment, other than to confirm Brooks-Tahir's employment.

It is not clear whether they knew before hiring her of long-standing questions about management of her Salisbury law practice from 1988 to 1994.

The Maryland comptroller's office says in court papers that, during this period, Brooks-Tahir "chronically and willfully" failed to file the required withholding tax for her employees.

By 1993, her liability, including penalties, was more than $5,600, according to court documents.

In recommending that the court disbar her, the Attorney Grievance Commission also cites previous disciplinary actions against Brooks-Tahir.

From 1989 to 1993, she was suspended once and reprimanded twice for neglecting clients' cases.

The Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, heard the case last month, and a decision could come this month.

The issue came to the Court of Appeals after a hearing before Wicomico County Circuit Judge Alfred T. Truitt Jr.

In attorney grievance cases, the Circuit Court judge serves as fact-finder, and the Court of Appeals weighs possible punishment.

In Brooks-Tahir's case, Judge Truitt found that her conduct in the tax matter violated the law and constituted professional misconduct.

In court documents and in an interview, Brooks-Tahir said her tax difficulties were private and should not result in disbarment.

She said she followed a repayment plan on the taxes and defaulted on the plan only after her practice closed.

"This is very painful," said Brooks-Tahir, a member of the Maryland bar since November 1980. "It was a private issue between me and the state. This is not something I hid."

In the court papers, she blamed her disciplinary problems on personal troubles, including poor health and a marital separation. And she accused the Attorney Grievance Commission of failing to follow proper procedures in reviewing her case and of targeting her for disbarment.

"I believe I'm going to prevail in this," she said.

Pub Date: 12/03/96

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