Wednesday, February 17, 2010
A Hearing Panel of the Vermont Professional Responsibility Board recently imposed a six month suspension of an attorney who was employed by a law firm for failing to tell her employer about an ongoing relationship with the spouse of a firm client. The firm represented the wife in a divorce case that involved two minor children. The attorney met the husband at a gym and they began to date.
At the outset, the attorney was unaware of the firm's representation of the wife. When she learned of the firm's involvement, she sought ethical guidance, disclosed the relationship to the partner handling the case and offered to be screened from the representation. The partner advised the attorney to either end the relationship or leave the firm. The attorney agreed to cease dating the husband and stayed with the firm. The partner advised the client of the situation (assuring the client that the relationship was over) and, after consulting other counsel, the client agreed to continue with the firm as counsel.
The attorney and the husband resumed the relationship (something to do with an order of chocolates) and were sharing the master bedroom of the marital home, a fact that was learned by the wife's family. The attorney was terminated and prosecuted on a charge of deceiving the firm. The hearing panel found misconduct and noted that the attorney failed to recognize the ethical violation. (Mike Frisch)