A Spokane attorney who spent four decades in the legal profession mainly representing patients alleging mistreatment by medical providers chose to resign last month rather than fight professional misconduct claims.
Marcia M. Meade notified the Washington State Bar Association on Sunday of her intent to permanently relinquish her legal license. The association’s disciplinary board alleges Meade improperly deposited settlement funds intended for clients into her personal accounts, and then used one client’s settlement amount to make payments to others over a period of more than a year.
In a phone call Wednesday, Meade disputed the allegations brought against her by the state bar. She said her decision to resign rather than fight the charges was driven by personal and financial hardship, while also citing the challenges facing attorneys and clients attempting to file medical negligence claims against a health care system that has legal advantages over individual patients who allege wrongdoing.
“The table is set against the patient, and against the public,” Meade said.
She pointed to a state law that only requires a health care provider to inform the public when a medical professional receives disciplinary action, not whether an internal investigation has begun or what it found.
Fighting in court is the only way to illuminate wrongdoing, Meade said.
A graduate of Gonzaga Law School, Meade has been licensed to practice in Washington state since October 1980. She initially won a $13 million jury settlement in 1994 for workers performing cleanup at the Kaiser Trentwood plant, which at the time was reported to be the largest settlement awarded in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Washington. The award was later reduced on appeal. In May 2002, she was part of a legal team that won a $750,000 settlement for agriculture workers exposed to a chemical pesticide administered from the air.
Recently, she’d taken the case of a woman who fell from an operating table at Holy Family Hospital. In the midst of that litigation, which was put on hold after the plaintiff filed bankruptcy, an order was entered suspending Meade’s law license by the federal courts in Western Washington. Documents from the state bar association allege that for a 13-month period ending in February 2019, Meade deposited tens of thousands of dollars into an operations account that was intended to be placed in a trust fund for several clients, at least two of whom were minors.
Meade and her husband filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2018. Meade said she hasn’t had any clients in more than a year, and said that all clients were eventually paid the amounts they were owed as part of legal settlements.
“Everyone was paid,” she said. “We just have a disagreement about it.”
Resignations in lieu of discipline are rare occurrences statewide, according to the annual reports of the profession’s discipline system prepared by the state bar association. Of the 56 disciplinary actions taken against lawyers in 2019, the most recent year for which full data is available, five resulted in attorneys choosing to leave the bar rather than requesting a disciplinary hearing. In no year dating back to 2015 have there been more than 18 such cases annually, according to the report. The association regularly receives between 1,800 and 2,000 grievances against attorneys each year.
The resignation is permanent, and applies across state boundaries, according to the agreement signed by Meade late last month.