January 19, 2011
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has imposed a suspension of four years and eight months on an attorney who was found to have engaged in a sexual relationship with a particularly vulnerable client. The court described the client:
The misconduct at issue in this case involves Attorney...'s long-time representation of a female client with a very extensive history of and treatment for various psychiatric disorders and alcohol dependency. The client's diagnoses include bipolar I disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and severe personality disorder with histrionic, borderline, anti-social, and passive-aggressive features.
The client has been hospitalized and placed at various inpatient mental health and substance abuse facilities on numerous occasions since 1999. She had sexual relations with a man who worked at one of her treatment centers. That man was subsequently fired, criminally prosecuted, and jailed.
The court found the conduct more egregious than a prior case:
Attorney...'s conduct was even more egregious than Attorney W..'s and as a result deserves a harsher sanction. Although Attorney W...'s client was able to rebuff his advances, Attorney...engaged in numerous instances of sexual relations with a client who suffered from numerous vulnerabilities. In addition to engaging in a sexual relationship with a vulnerable client, Attorney...disregarded the requests made by his client in early October 2006 that he not call her any more, and made numerous telephone calls to her between October and December 2006, including during the time she was a patient in a mental institution. After law enforcement authorities began their criminal investigation of Attorney...pertaining to his July 30, 2006, sexual encounter with the client, Attorney...had numerous communications with the client, her mother, her sister, and others, in an effort to get her to recant her statements about the events of July 30, 2006. In March 2007 Attorney...gave the client a cash payment and induced her to sign a self-serving document that he had prepared.
Attorney...sent a letter to two circuit court judges trying to persuade them there would be no merit to the potential criminal charges Attorney...believed the district attorney might pursue against him relating to the July 30, 2006, sexual encounter with the client. The letter Attorney...sent to the judges attached documents relating to the client's sexual history. Attorney...also included detailed information about the client's sexual and mental health histories in documents he submitted in the restraining order case the client filed against him. Throughout this entire disciplinary proceeding, Attorney...persisted in attaching to his pleadings hundreds of pages of medical records containing highly sensitive personal information about the client.
The court was appropriately sensitive to the privacy of the complainant:
Although the record in attorney regulatory proceedings is normally public once the OLR has filed a complaint, due to the extremely sensitive nature of this matter, the referee ordered that the entire record be sealed. We find it appropriate to grant the request made by counsel for the client that the entire file in this matter remain confidential and not accessible to the public. We also deem it appropriate to order that Attorney...not have any contact with the client.
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