Friday, September 7, 2012

Attorney's 9-1-1 Call Reporting Client For Domestic Violence Leads To Stayed Suspension

The Ohio Supreme Court has imposed a six-month suspension of an attorney who became romantically involved with a client in a domestic relations matter. However, the court stayed the suspension on good behavior.

Over the course of two dinners, the attorney persuaded the client to be intimate with him and "assured" her that the relationship created no conflict of interest. She testified that she was overwhelmed by his overtures and was afraid to resist for fear of losing legal representation.

The attorney employed the client as a bookkeeper, leased her a car and made various payments on her behalf. They took a number of vacations together.

After they moved in together, there was an incident that led the attorney to call 9-1-1 and report the client for alleged domestic violence. The attorney then "fired" the client, who was left in the lurch in ongoing proceedings and subject to a civil protection order.

Although he abandoned her case, he continued to make "overtures" to her, notwithstanding the CPO.

Note Rick Underwood's question with respect to the non-suspensory sanction imposed here. (Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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He was suspended for 6 months but the suspension was stayed if he promised to be a good boy? Does anyone else think he got off too easy?

Posted by: rick underwood | Sep 7, 2012 7:50:06 AM

I agree with Rick. This course of action involved misleading an emotionally vulnerable client about a very egregious conflict of interest, as well as numerous pretty significant errors in judgment. Given how far this relationship went (particularly the employment and firing piece) and that he is likely to face similar situations again (assuming he continues to practice family law), I am surprised that the court let him off that easy. Does anyone know if there was any kind of mental health eval or referral? Does Ohio have those kinds of resources available?

Posted by: Chris Osborn | Sep 10, 2012 4:58:58 AM

Following up on this thread, I recently read of a disciplinary action conducted by the North Carolina State Bar against a domestic attorney for similar conduct. In this case (see the third suspension listed at the following link: ), the attorney was given a considerably more substantial sanction, despite the fact that apparently the, er, "overtures" he made to two clients do not appear to have been nearly as persuasive.

Perhaps the degree to which the relationship with the client (or, in the NC case, the ham-fisted attempt to commence some sort of relationship) was "welcomed" or "consensual" (in some sense of the word) may help explain the disparity in sanctions; however, in my opinion, the Ohio case highlights the potential that an attorney may well misuse his superior knowledge and the client’s vulnerability to procure "consent" by deception or coercion. I would therefore hope to see a successful overture for an indefensibly inappropriate client relationship punished more stringently than a failed effort.

Mainly, though, I was encouraged to see that the NC State Bar was willing not only to impose a substantial suspension, but also to use its power & resources to steer the offending attorney towards getting help for whatever underlying issues may have contributed to his behavior. I am curious to learn more about what kinds of resources other state & local bars have for referral of disciplined attorneys to mental health providers or recovery-type groups, how often they are willing to make use of such resources, and what (if any) measurable effect such measures may have on recidivism. If anyone knows of someone who is already researching or writing in that field, please let me know so that I might make contact towards the end of comparing notes and perhaps collaborating or assisting one another in some form or fashion

Posted by: Chris Osborn | Oct 16, 2012 12:07:54 PM

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