June 14, 2010
An Unexpected Interruption
The West Virginia Supreme Court rejected proposed lesser discipline and annulled the law license of an attorney for misconduct in a prison visit. The court found that the attorney had a prior sexual relationship with an inmate. Then:
On October 11, 2005, the respondent called PCC at about 1:20 p.m. to schedule an attorney-inmate visit with [the inmate]. The respondent testified that he was given permission for this visit and then traveled from Fairmont to Grafton. While at the administration building, the respondent informed the prison authorities that he represented [her] and provided his West Virginia State Bar membership card and state driver's license as proof of his identity. He also listed himself as “attorney” on the sign-in sheet at the facility. The respondent was then escorted to a multi-purpose room where [she] was brought to him within 10 minutes.
The respondent and [the inmate] were alone in the room. The respondent testified before the Panel that he and [the inmate] discussed the disposition and location of her personal belongings and automobile since her incarceration. He stated that this was a very short conversation. The respondent testified that as he started to leave, [she] asked him to wait and stated how appreciative she was of his efforts on her behalf. According to the respondent then testified that Ms. [she] then initiated sexual contact with him by inquiring if he would like to receive oral sex. She then reached for the zipper fastening his trousers. The respondent testified that the zipper stuck and [she] was unable to continue unzipping his pants. The respondent then unzipped his pants for [her]. The parties stipulated that as [she] was engaged in an act of oral sex upon the respondent, they were interrupted by a corrections officer who had been monitoring the visitation. [She] was removed from the visitation area. The parties agree that as the respondent was attempting to leave PCC, he was asked by the warden of the facility to remain to speak to law enforcement.
The court on sanction:
[The attorney's] conduct as an attorney in misrepresenting himself as counsel for [the inmate] in order to gain access to her for improper reasons was more than mere deceit. His conduct fell so far below what should reasonably be expected of attorneys as to be shocking to this Court. His actions fueled a wave of questions by the public, the incarcerated, jail authorities and fellow members of the legal profession. This Court is faced with having to reassure all affected parties that the likelihood of this conduct, and similar conduct by other members of the bar, is going to be met with harsh consequences. Furthermore, this Court must assist in protecting the vulnerable, especially those in State custody, from the lustful advances of attorneys as well as maintaining the good relationship between the criminal bar and the state's jail and prison authorities. The recommended disposition of the Board does not accomplish these goals. Accepting any sanction other than disbarment does not send a clear and resounding message to the bar, the public and other interested parties, including jail and prison authorities who must work with attorneys on a daily basis.
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