Tuesday, October 3, 2023
Ohio Disciplinary Counsel has filed charges involving an attorney's representation of a client who he had met on the smartphone dating website Hinge and began a sexual relationship.
The relationship ended in November 2021 but they remained friends.
She retained Respondent on a contingent fee basis to sue an ex-boyfriend.
Their romance allegedly "rekindled" in April- May 2022.
He represented her in other matters including an order of protection case and civil suit against her ex-husband.
Respondent produced a thumb drive to opposing counsel that included texts between the client and him
The thumb drive contained an image of a text message that respondent sent to [client] Semaj on or around October 21 or October 22, 2021, which had a face with heart eyes emoji.
There followed a motion to disqualify and misconduct is alleged in his response
In his response, respondent did not acknowledge that he had an ongoing romantic relationship with Semaj. Rather, respondent falsely told the court that his relationship with Semaj had concluded:
• “I sent this [emoji] to Ms. Semaj on October 20, 2021, when we were dating. So what?” [emphasis added.]
• “Regarding Rule 1.7(a)(2), I am an adult and a professional. My duty is to represent Ms. Semaj’s interests zealously and to the best of my ability. I am not influenced by our past relationship. I am influenced by my oath and the code of conduct governing our profession.” [emphasis added.]
• “How can one possibly argue that my past relationship with Ms. Semaj is interfering with my ability to represent her in this case?” [emphasis added.]
Respondent did not tell Judge Jones that his relationship with Semaj was ongoing.
The motion to disqualfy was denied.
A motion to disqualify in the order of protection matter
Rather, respondent falsely told the court that his relationship with Semaj had concluded:
My client and I met through the dating app Hinge in September of 2021. We dated I think for two months. She broke it off with me after her ex-husband sexually assaulted her. * * * I will say, you can swear me in, there is no relationship other than an attorney/client relationship now. There was a romantic relationship for about two months that she ended because of a trauma caused by her ex-husband who did not appear today. * * * But again, I had a relationship with my client that began long before the attorney/client relationship began, and it no longer exists.
Respondent’s statement that he and Semaj dated for two months was false because in or around April – May 2022, respondent and Semaj rekindled their romantic relationship and continued dating romantically through the summer until September 19, 2022.
On September 15, 2022, Stafford took respondent’s deposition in the divorce case.
During the deposition, respondent acknowledged that he had a relationship with Semaj and that his statements to the court were not true.
When Judge Jones learned about respondent’s deposition testimony, she filed a grievance with relator’s office on October 6, 2022.
There are also allegations of trust account violations regarding fees paid by the client. (Mike Frisch)