Friday, December 7, 2018
The Iowa Supreme Court has suspended an attorney for 30 days for sex with a domestic relations client.
An Iowa attorney engaged in an intimate relationship with one of her clients whom she was representing in a marriage dissolution matter. The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board charged the attorney with a violation of Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:1.8(j) (sexual relationship with a client). Though the attorney initially expressed her disbelief at the charge when the Board sent her a notice letter requiring her to respond to the alleged misconduct, she admitted her wrongdoing soon thereafter and fully cooperated with the Board.
The parties reached a factual stipulation, agreeing that the charged violation occurred. The grievance commission considered the matter without a hearing and concluded the attorney violated rule 32:1.8(j). The commission recommended the attorney’s license be suspended for thirty days. Upon our de novo review, we conclude that the attorney violated rule 32:1.8(j). We agree with the commission’s recommended sanction and suspend the attorney’s license to practice law for thirty days.
The initial response
“I am appalled at these allegations, to say the least.”
She admitted engaging in an intimate relationship with Doe but claimed the relationship occurred “at the appropriate time.”
After the Board commenced an investigation into the matter, Nine admitted that she had an intimate relationship with Doe in August 2011 that she later ended. Nine subsequently cooperated fully with the Board and commission. The investigation revealed that Doe did not suffer any financial harm because of the intimate relationship, nor did he claim any emotional or mental harm.
Intimate relationships between an attorney and a client pose a number of issues given “[t]he relationship between lawyer and client is a fiduciary one in which the lawyer occupies the highest position of trust and confidence” and the unequal nature of the relationship. Id. Additionally, “such a relationship presents a significant danger that,
because of the lawyer’s emotional involvement, the lawyer will be unable to represent the client without impairment of the exercise of independent professional judgment.” Id. Though there are “many gray areas” in the professional responsibility realm, “sexual relationships between attorney and client is not one of these. Such conduct is clearly improper.”
And noted that such relations are particularly problematic in domestic relations matter.
Finally, though we are sanctioning Nine’s misconduct now, we consider that it took place in 2011. At that time, our most recent attorney disciplinary case regarding a similar violation of rule 32:1.8(j) sanctioned an attorney to a thirty-day suspension of his license...
Attorneys engaging in sexual relationships with clients is becoming a recurring problem, and it is becoming clear from our disciplinary cases involving violations of rule 32:1.8(j) that “our thirty-day suspension is not deterring attorneys from engaging in sexual relationships with clients.” Jacobsma, ___ N.W.2d at ___ (Wiggins, J., dissenting). Sanctions in disciplinary cases serve many purposes, including deterrence. See Monroe, 784 N.W.2d at 790 (“It is important to deter other attorneys in similar circumstances from putting their own self-interest ahead of those of the client, the very antithesis of a lawyer’s professional duty.”). In the future, we may need to implement harsher sanctions to deter attorneys from engaging in sexual relationships with clients.