Maryland’s Office of Bar Counsel has a new top attorney after a monthslong search for permanent leadership.
The Maryland Supreme Court this week approved Thomas M. DeGonia to serve as bar counsel, a role that involves overseeing investigations and prosecutions of lawyers in trouble.
DeGonia, a Montgomery County lawyer and partner at Ethridge, Quinn, Kemp, Rowan & Hartinger, said Tuesday that he is “honored and humbled” to be selected for the job.
“I think it’s probably one of the most important positions to our profession, as well as the public, when it comes to accountability,” he said.
The Attorney Grievance Commission’s announcement came after a lengthy search to replace former Bar Counsel Lydia E. Lawless, who stepped down in March.
“(DeGonia) is an outstanding lawyer,” Lawless said Tuesday. “Committed to his clients, the public, the legal profession and the rule of law. His experience makes him well-suited to serve as our state’s bar counsel.”
The Attorney Grievance Commission sought candidates twice. The first round ended abruptly in July when D. Michael Lyles, the city attorney for Annapolis, said he was nominated to serve as bar counsel but then rejected by the state Supreme Court.
The second round elicited four new candidates, including DeGonia. The other finalists for the position were James B. Astrachan, a partner at Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann LLP; Virginia S. “Jenny” Hovermill, an assistant attorney general in the criminal appeals division of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office; and Phillip R. Zuber, a partner at Sasscer, Clagett & Butcher
The Office of Bar Counsel has a staff of about 25 people and an annual budget of over $4 million. Its lawyers investigate and prosecute attorneys accused of misconduct and handle a number of other issues, such as petitioning for conservatorship when an attorney dies or becomes incapacitated.
The office has struggled with staffing issues in recent months, The Daily Record first reported in August. Eleven employees left in the previous year, including nine attorneys, and several leadership positions are vacant, according to the Attorney Grievance Commission’s website and other public information.
DeGonia said the staffing issues will be “a challenge, but I think it’s rewarding work. It certainly is going to be some intellectually challenging work for the right attorneys.”
DeGonia has been a partner at Ethridge Quinn since 2011, according to a biography provided by the Attorney Grievance Commission. From 2007 to 2011, he was a senior associate at Venable LLP, where he managed teams of attorneys on complex investigations.
He has served as a special prosecutor in Maryland and as a federal court-appointed member of a civil rights monitoring team.
He also worked as an assistant state’s attorney in Montgomery County for eight years and in the Office of Counsel to the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State.
DeGonia was president of the Bar Association of Montgomery County from 2020 to 2021 and president of the Family Justice Center Foundation from 2009 to 2021. He received his law degree from the American University Washington College of Law.
(Editor’s note: Astrachan also serves as the chair of The Daily Record’s Editorial Advisory Board, a group of attorneys who serve voluntarily and independent of the newspaper and offer viewpoints on legal issues of the day.)