April 15, 2009
The Maryland Court of Appeals imposed an indefinite suspension of at least 24 months on an already suspended attorney who had engaged in a romantic relationship with a client. When the client raised concerns about how the personal relationship might affect the representation, he "simply smiled and told her that it was not a problem..." The hearing court found that the client had testified credibly that she and the lawyer had had sex in his office notwithstanding his denials.
During the affair, the client became concerned that the lawyer was unfaithful to her. She learned the identity of another paramour of the lawyer and contacted the other woman. The two then confronted the lawyer. The client then drove to the lawyer's home and advised his wife that he was having affairs with at least two women. The affair ended in a bar complaint and a malpractice suit. The suit was dismissed but the Bar Counsel prosecuted the lawyer based on the client's complaint.
The court here rejected the suggestion that the behavior did not result in a conflict of interest. The lawyer knew the client was not a "piller of emotional stability" during the affair. There is no per se prohibition against sex with a client in Maryland but this "does not mean that such relationships should be pursued or are immune to sanctions." The court further found that the lawyer had brought disrepute to the legal profession and that ignorance of his ethical obligations was not a defense. The vulnerabitity of the client was treated as an aggravating factor, as was the lawyer's continuing failure to acknowledge the adverse impact of the romantic relationship on the representation.
Three dissenting judges would disbar. (Mike Frisch)
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