Sunday, November 10, 2019

When The Lawyer Is The Victim

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed a criminal conviction in rather unusual circumstances

The victim in this case, Mr. Jaramiah Hruska, was an attorney who had been implicated in prior sexual misconduct and arrested for patronizing prostitution. The State attempted to demonstrate that on October 8, 2015, the Defendant and his co-defendant, Ms. Britny Thompson, who were romantically involved, had schemed to place the victim in a sexually compromising position and then to rob and extort him in the hopes that his fear of professional reprisal would prevent him from reporting the crimes. The defense attempted to show that the Defendant was aware of the victim’s past misconduct, that by wielding the [baseball] bat, he was merely protecting the co-defendant from being coerced into sexual activity, and that he lacked the intent to deprive the victim of his property, which the victim offered up in an attempt to escape a jealous boyfriend.

The co-defendant was a client of the victim 

The victim was appointed to represent the co-defendant in a criminal matter in 2011, and he subsequently represented the co-defendant’s then-boyfriend, Mr. Jacob Snyder, in a limited hearing on a furlough issue. The victim stated that he charged the co-defendant $100 for his work on Mr. Snyder’s case and that she never paid him but had suggested “that there were other ways to pay.” He asserted that he declined her offer and denied that he forgave the debt in exchange for sex.

The victim testified that he had not had sex with the co-defendant as payment for legal services for Mr. Snyder but that he confessed to doing so because the Defendant had hit him with the bat when he denied it. The Defendant threatened to accuse the victim of rape and report him to the BPR if he attempted to go to the authorities, and the victim ultimately agreed to give the Defendant several thousand dollars at a later date.

The defense sought to explore his past conduct and bar discipline

The trial court held a pretrial hearing on the State’s motion to exclude evidence of the Board of Professional Responsibility’s (“BPR”) investigation into the victim and to exclude the testimony of the victim’s former neighbor and the victim’s former client regarding the victim’s past sexual misconduct. Detective Bobby Anderson of the Cookeville Police Department testified that in July 2015, he investigated allegations that the victim’s neighbor met the victim at his office, where he paid her for sex. The victim initially denied having paid for sex. He ultimately acknowledged that there was an understanding that his neighbor would have sex with him in exchange for money for her car payments. He denied that he represented her as an attorney, but the neighbor told the detective that the victim had given her legal advice.

While the trial court admitted evidence of the victim's past conduct

the court excluded evidence regarding the victim’s “prior prostitution activity” and the documents produced in the BPR investigation.

Proffer

Prior to the introduction of any proof at trial, the trial court permitted the defense to make an offer of proof regarding the testimony of two witnesses who stated they had been exploited by the victim. The victim’s former client testified that the victim was appointed to be her attorney in 2012 or 2013. Despite the fact that he was her attorney and knew she was homosexual, the victim made sexual comments to her, and the victim’s former client told him she was in a long-term relationship. The victim’s former client later asked the victim if he could help her with money for her child as she reported to jail, and he offered to and ultimately did pay her for sex. She acknowledged she was taking a medication related to opiate addiction at the time of her testimony. The victim’s neighbor likewise testified that the victim paid her for sex after providing her legal assistance. She testified that the victim lived next to her in public housing and that he had offered her legal services if she should need them. He gave her free legal advice at one point regarding a custody issue. The victim then began to send her sexual text messages and to offer financial help at a time when she was struggling financially, and she performed a sex act for money at his law office. She testified that she felt the victim had taken advantage of her desperate circumstances and that she was still angry with him.

The court rejected the defendant's claims of error. 

The Herald-Citizen reported on the victim's bar discipline in May 2018

The law license of Jaramiah Justin Hruska was suspended last month following a petition for discipline filed against him in  November of 2016 alleging that he pleaded guilty "to the misdemeanor offense of patronizing prostitution for which he received judicial diversion, and for making inappropriate comments to the wife of one of his clients."

At the time of the suspension announcement, the BPR said Hruska would be prevented from practicing law for the first 30 days of the two-year suspension, and the remainder will be served on probation.

(Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2019/11/the-tennessee-court-affirmed-a-criminal-conviction-the-victim-in-this-case-mr-jaramiah-hruska-was-an-attorney-who-had-bee.html

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