Friday, December 7, 2018

Sex With Client Day In Iowa Bar Discipline

The Iowa Supreme Court dealt with two sex with client matters today with the same 30-day suspension sanction.

From May 2017 through November 30, 2017, Jacobsma maintained an attorney–client relationship with Jane Doe, representing her in various legal matters. On October 1, 2017, Jacobsma began a sexual relationship with Doe. Jacobsma and Doe were not husband and wife at the time of the commencement of the sexual relationship.

On November 22, 2017, after Jacobsma’s two law partners confronted him, Jacobsma admitted to engaging in a sexual relationship with Doe. Jacobsma’s partners informed him that if he did not report his misconduct to the Board, they would file a complaint with the Board as required by Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:8.3(a).

In an email dated November 30, 2017, Jacobsma reported to the Board, “I have violated the provisions of Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:1.8(j) wherein I had a sexual relationship with a client of mine after the lawyer-client relationship was established.”

He stipulated to the misconduct

we find Jacobsma engaged in a sexual relationship with a client, the client was not Jacobsma’s spouse at the time of the sexual relationship, and the sexual relationship did not predate the attorney–client relationship. Consequently, we conclude Jacobsma’s conduct violated rule 32:1.8(j).

The court surveyed the sanctions for comparable conduct

Here, there are no allegations or evidence in the record of Jacobsma deliberately preying on his client’s vulnerable personal, mental, or financial state. See, e.g., Monroe, 784 N.W.2d at 791 (“[T]he situation presented by the facts of this case is less egregious than we have encountered with respect to other violations of rule 32.1:8(j)[, in part because] . . . Monroe’s conduct was not predatory . . . .”); cf., e.g., McGrath, 713 N.W.2d at 703 (“With their relationship with their children at stake and with no financial means, these clients were extremely vulnerable. Preying upon this vulnerability, [McGrath] manipulated these women . . . for his own sexual gratification.”). Nor is there any evidence that Jacobsma and Doe’s sexual relationship was of the “sex-for-fees” variety. Cf. Moothart, 860 N.W.2d at 616. And nothing in the record indicates the relationship was uninvited, unwanted, or harassing toward Doe. Cf. id.; Furlong, 625 N.W.2d at 712, 714.


Upon consideration of all of these pertinent factors, we agree with the commission that a thirty-day suspension of Jacobsma’s Iowa law license is the appropriate sanction. We decline to adopt the commission’s recommendation that Jacobsma be required to continue mental health counseling until discharged by his therapist in writing.

Justice Wiggins 

I consider a consensual sexual relationship with a client as requiring a more serious sanction than the one imposed by the majority. We must make the sanction so it acts as a real deterrence, protects the public, and maintains the reputation of the bar.

Therefore, I would suspend Jacobsma’s license indefinitely with no possibility of reinstatement for three months. Before reinstatement, I would require him to obtain counseling and provide this court with a report showing that he is no longer at risk to engage in sexual relationships with a client. Finally, I would require him to file an application for reinstatement with this court.

A sexual relationship with a client is a serious matter. It is time we deal with it as such. We can no long slap the wrists of attorneys who violate rule 32:1.8(j).

Christensen, J., joins this dissent.

(Mike Frisch)

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