Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Attorney Engaged in Criminal Touching Of Client During Re-Enactment Of Accident

The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department has imposed a nine-month suspension for the following criminal conduct:

In March 2007, respondent met with a client he was to represent in a personal injury action and requested that she re-enact the circumstances under which her accident occurred. During the demonstration, respondent inserted his hand beneath the client's clothing and touched her breast, and moved her hand over his groin area (outside of his trousers) in a sexual manner, without the client's permission or consent. Respondent then told the client not to tell anyone.

In June 2007, respondent was charged in a misdemeanor complaint with one count of forcible touching in violation of Penal Law § 130.52 and two counts of sexual abuse in the third degree in violation of Penal Law § 130.55. On September 22, 2008, he pled guilty to disorderly conduct (Penal Law § 240.20[1]), a violation, and was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge.

The court noted:

Here, respondent did more than make offensive or suggestive comments. While consulting with a client, he engaged in non-consensual physical contact, groping the woman against her will and placing her hand on his groin for sexual pleasure. By this conduct, respondent failed to act in accordance with the high standards imposed upon members of the bar and his misconduct reflects adversely on his fitness as a lawyer and upon the legal profession. As the Referee found, while a mitigating factor, respondent did not establish that his depression caused his sexually abusive conduct toward his client (see Matter of Alongi, 276 AD2d 175, 177 [2000]). Although there have been instances in which this Court has censured attorneys for sexually related misconduct, such matters are inapposite because the abuse in those cases was not directed at a client (see e.g. Matter of Najdovski, 18 AD3d 27 [2005] [attorney censured for, inter alia, misdemeanor conviction of sexual abuse in the third degree for having made sexual advances to a woman who he had dinner and drinks with after she applied for a job in his firm]; Matter of Sims, 36 AD3d 304 [2006][respondent, convicted in New Jersey of violation of harassment for pinching secretary's buttocks and then censured in New Jersey disciplinary proceeding, censured by this Court]).

The hearing panel had proposed a three-month suspension. (Mike Frisch)

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