Thursday, May 5, 2022
A recent 90-day suspension for a conflict of interest by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
The respondent, a solo practitioner focusing on residential real estate work, met the client through an online dating and social networking website. Once they met in person, they discovered they had many common interests, including their respective real estate businesses. They quickly became friends. Although the client was not interested in a sexual relationship with the respondent, she repeatedly texted him nude and otherwise inappropriate photos of herself and, during the course of the relationship, sent him provocative text messages.
The client retained the respondent to do legal work for him on multiple matters. In violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.5(b)(1), the respondent never communicated to the client in writing the scope of the representation and the basis or rate of the fee and expenses for which he would be responsible. The respondent also entered into two joint business ventures with the client and, in violation of Rules 1.8(a)(2) and (3), never advised him in writing of the desirability of seeking advice of independent counsel in the transactions. In violation of Rules 1.7(a) and (b), she never obtained the client’s informed consent in writing to her role in the transactions/entities or to the significant risk that her personal interest in both a sexual relationship with the client and the joint ventures might materially limit her representation of and responsibilities to him. Her sending inappropriate sexual photographs and communications violated Rule 8.4(h) (conduct that adversely reflects on fitness to practice law).
The client eventually ended his personal and professional relationship with the respondent. After the termination of the representation, the respondent failed to protect the client’s interests, in violation of Rule 1.16(d).