Category Archives: Lawyer discipline alleged sexual misconduct

Kansas lawyer suspended indefinitely for, inter alia, engaging in a sexual relationship with the president of a corporation she represented

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Kansas Supreme Court opinion suspending a lawyer for engaging in a sexual relationship with the president of a corporation that she represented as general counsel, drafting an employment contract for the person, and failing to report the person’s misconduct.  The opinion is In re Allison L. Bergman, No. 115,448 (Oct. 28, 2016) and the Kansas Supreme Court opinion is here: http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/Opinions/SupCt/2016/20161028/115448.pdf.

According to the opinion, the lawyer served as outside general counsel for the Kansas City Terminal Railway Company.  During her representation of the company, she began a sexual relationship with the company’s president and board chair (Mader). “From 2002 until January 2012, Respondent and Mader were in a personal, close relationship.  At times the relationship was romantic and sexual. At all times from 2002 to January 2012, the relationship between Mader and Respondent was a very close, deep, meaningful, sustained, loving, caring, intimate and special friendship with frequent social and personal interactions with each other.”

The lawyer failed to disclose the relationship to the corporation’s board.  She later drafted the president’s employment contract and, in addition, the lawyer failed to report to the board the president’s breach of various fiduciary duties that he owed to the corporation.

The opinion states that the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct, like the ABA Model Rules (and most state Bar Rules), prohibit a lawyer from having “sexual relations with a client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed between them when the client-lawyer relationship commenced.”

“We agree with the hearing panel that probation is not an appropriate disposition.  As the panel concluded, the respondent’s misconduct is serious, involving significant conflicts of interest as well as dishonest behavior. Further, the panel found respondent failed to take full responsibility for her actions, and the record supports that finding. We, therefore, conclude it would not be in the best interests of the citizens of the state of Kansas for the respondent to be placed on probation. We agree with the panel’s recommendation that the respondent’s license to practice law in the state of Kansas be suspended for an indefinite period of time.”

Bottom line:  This case raises interesting questions regarding the scope and application of Bar Rules which prohibit a lawyer from engaging in a sexual relationship with a client under unless the relationship commenced before the representation began.  The Bar Rules in most (if not all) jurisdictions state that when a lawyer is hired by a corporation, the “client” is the corporation, not the president or other board members and directors.  This raises the question of whether the lawyer can be found guilty of violating the Bar Rule prohibiting sex with a client if he or she did not actually have sex with the “client” corporation but admitted to having sex with the president?  I would think not…and I would urge lawyers not to test the application of the rule!

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Lawyer conflict of interest, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer discipline alleged sexual misconduct, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer sex with client

Ohio Supreme Court suspends lawyer who engaged in sexually oriented text messages with a client

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the June 14, 2016 Ohio Supreme Court disciplinary opinion suspending a lawyer for one year (with six months stayed) for engaging in voluntary sexually explicit text messages and photos with a client.  The case is Disciplinary Counsel v. Bartels, Case No. 2015-1638, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-3333 and the opinion is here:  http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2016/2016-Ohio-3333.pdf

The Ohio Office of Disciplinary Counsel charged a lawyer named N. Shannon Bartels in 2014 with violating the Ohio Bar rule prohibiting a lawyer from soliciting or engaging in sexual activity with a client, unless a consensual sexual relationship existed before the client-lawyer relationship began.  The lawyer was alleged to have had sexual conversations in hundreds of text messages with the client, who had retained her to handle his divorce.

According to the opinion, “(i)n November 2012, Troy Bailey retained Bartels to represent him in his divorce. The divorce was finalized by court entry in July 2013. However, commencing in late February or early March 2013, Bartels and Bailey began exchanging multiple text messages with each other that were sexually oriented. The messages continued for approximately one month and were mutual and reciprocal in their sexual content, but Bartels and Bailey did not actually engage in sexual intercourse with each other.”

After learning of the texts and the relationship, the client’s girlfriend tried to blackmail the lawyer by threatening to send the text messages to authorities if the client did not get what he wanted in his divorce and receive a refund of the fees that the client paid to represent him in the divorce.  The lawyer ultimately reported the threats to law enforcement and the client and the girlfriend were charged with crimes.  The client and his girlfriend (Ann Perkins) both pled guilty to obstructing justice, a fifth-degree felony, and were placed on probation for two years.

The lawyer had previously been publicly reprimanded in 2010 for engaging in a sexual relationship with a married client and the opinion stated “(b)ecause this is Bartels’ second disciplinary action within five years for a violation of the same rule and her responses to the questions at the hearing indicate a lack of awareness of the nature of her wrongdoing, we conclude that the board’s recommended sanction (of a one year suspension) is the more appropriate option.”

The opinion imposed the one year suspension with six months of the suspension stayed subject to the conditions that the lawyer receive training on proper communications and interactions with clients, and also serve one year of monitored probation when her license is reinstated.  In addition to the training and probation, the lawyer must also not commit further misconduct and pay the costs of the proceedings.

Bottom line:  Even in our age of text messaging and electronic/digital communications, the conduct of this lawyer seems to be inexplicable.  As the Ohio Supreme Court opinion makes very clear, lawyers should never engage in sexual conduct with a client, particularly in divorce/family law matters.  The only potential exception is if the consensual relationship began before the representation; however,

Be careful out there!           

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer discipline alleged sexual misconduct, Lawyer discipline sexting texting with client, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer sex with client, Lawyer sexting with client

Indiana assistant public defender suspended for one year for texting prostitute to a cell telephone in police custody and soliciting prostitution

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Indiana Supreme Court opinion suspending an assistant public defender for one year for, inter alia, sending a text to a person who he believed was a prostitute to a cell telephone in police cust

ody and soliciting that person for prostitution, and then meeting an undercover police officer at a hotel to solicit sex from her.  The opinion is In the Matter of: Christopher A. Hollander, No. 49S00-1402-DI-118 (Ind. SC March 24, 2015) and the link to the disciplinary opinion is here: http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/03241501per.pdf

According to the opinion, “H.S., using a fictitious name, had placed an online classified advertisement for escort services that listed her cell phone number.  At some point, H.S. was arrested by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (“IMPD”) for engaging in prostitution.  Respondent had seen and remembered H.S.’s classified advertisement, and when Respondent came across a police report containing the same phone number, he was able to determine specific arrest information regarding H.S. and thereafter identify her.”

The lawyer, who was an assistant public defender, texted that telephone number in November 2012 believing that the text was going to H.S.; however, the telephone was actually in the possession of the Indianapolis police and an officer impersonating the woman responded to the text.  The lawyer told the officer impersonating H.S. that he could help her with her situation and that he would “work with her” with regard to the attorney fees.  The lawyer set up a time to meet the undercover office who he believed to be H.S. and went to a hotel to meet her in December 2012. When the lawyer arrived at the hotel, he tried to hug and kiss the officer impersonating H.S. and made statements indicating that he wanted sex with her in exchange for legal services.

The lawyer and the Indiana Bar stipulated to the facts and to a one year suspension.  In mitigation, “(1) Respondent has no prior discipline; (2) following his arrest, Respondent sought help from the Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program (“JLAP”), he has been under a JLAP monitoring agreement, and he has been receiving psychological therapy and treatment; (3) Respondent was candid with police immediately following his arrest; and (4) Respondent has expressed remorse for his behavior.

The Indiana Supreme Court accepted the stipulation and suspended the lawyer for a minimum of one year with the requirement that he petition for reinstatement at the end of the suspension period and meet the requirements for reinstatement, which include satisfying “the burden of demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence remorse for his misconduct, a proper understanding of the standards imposed upon members of the bar.”

Bottom line:  This case involves lawyer who apparently abused his position as an assistant public defender to obtain information on an alleged prostitute for purposes of solicitation and then actually solicited an undercover police officer for prostitution at a hotel.   The lawyer had no previous discipline, was fully cooperative, and is receiving psychological therapy and treatment; however, he received a one year rehabilitative suspension for the misconduct.  I am not sure what might be more embarrassing for a lawyer than this type of misconduct and discipline.

Be careful out there (and please don’t do this).

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Louisiana Supreme Court concludes that “of counsel” lawyers are associated with that law firm for conflicts of interest analysis

Hello everyone and happy 2015 to you and yours! This first Ethics Alert of the new year will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court which concluded that “of counsel” lawyers are associated with that law firm for purposes of potential conflicts of interest analysis. The case is In re Randy J. Fuerst, No. 2014-B-0647 (La. SC 12/9/14). The Court’s opinion is here: https://www.ladb.org/DR/?

According to general practice in the United States, a law firm can identify one or more lawyers as having an “of counsel” relationship with the firm. ABA Formal Op. 90-357 (May 10, 1990) states that, although the application of the term is varied, the “core characteristic (of the) title ‘counsel’ is, as stated in Formal Opinion 330, a ‘close, regular, personal relationship’; but a relationship which is neither that of a partner (or its equivalent, a principal of a professional corporation), with the shared liability and/or managerial responsibility implied by that term; nor, on the other hand, the status ordinarily conveyed by the term “associate,” which is to say a junior non- partner lawyer, regularly employed by the firm.

The ABA opinion notes that there is no prohibition against a law firm being “of counsel” to another law firm; however, “of counsel” relationships do not include the following: 1) “a relationship involving only an individual case,” 2) a relationship of “forwarder or receiver of legal business,” 3) a relationship “involving only occasional collaborative efforts among otherwise unrelated lawyers or firms,” or 4) a relationship as “an outside consultant.” ABA Formal Opinion 90-357 is here: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/formal_opinion_90_357.authcheckdam.pdf

In the recent Louisiana Supreme Court opinion, the lawyer was found guilty of violating the Louisiana Bar Rules by engaging in a sexual relationship with a current client and he was also found to have engaged in a conflict of interest in violation of Louisiana Bar Rule 1.10 “by referring a (current divorce) client to another lawyer in the law firm with which he was associated as ‘Of Counsel.’” The opinion found that “(a) lawyer who is ‘Of Counsel’ to a law firm is considered to be a member of the firm for purposes of analyzing imputed disqualification questions”; therefore, the lawyer “was required to refer the divorce case to a lawyer outside his law firm prior to the time that he became involved in a personal relationship with her.”

Bottom line: According to this Louisiana disciplinary opinion, a lawyer who is “of counsel” to a law firm is considered to be a member of that law firm for purposes of conflict of interest analysis; therefore, a lawyer who has a conflict of interest and must withdraw from representing a client cannot refer that client to a law firm in which he has an “of counsel” relationship since this conflict is imputed to the law firm and all of its lawyers. In addition, in this case, the lawyer “was required to refer the divorce case to a lawyer outside his law firm prior to the time that he became involved in a personal relationship with her.”

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670
jcorsmeier@jac-law.com
http://www.jac-law.com

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Connecticut lawyer agrees to a suspension for 4 months and career prohibition on representing women to resolve disciplinary allegations

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent media stories about a Connecticut lawyer who was suspended for four months and prohibited from representing female clients for the rest of his career after he was found guilty of representing women in family law and domestic-violence cases in violation of a 2010 Court Order.

The August 6, 2014 ABA Journal online article is here: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/lawyers_suspension_includes_lifetime_ban_on_representing_women/?utm_source=maestro&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly_email and the Connecticut Law Journal article is here: http://www.ctlawtribune.com/home/id=1202665886913?slreturn=20140706064608 (requires subscription).

According to the ABA Journal article, the Connecticut Law Tribune reported that the Connecticut lawyer was suspended for four months and prohibited from representing female clients for the rest of his career after he was found guilty of representing women in family law and domestic-violence cases in violation of a 2010 disciplinary Order. The Connecticut disciplinary counsel had sought disbarment for the lawyer, named Ira Mayo, alleging that he had violated the Order at least 11 times. The lawyer apparently agreed to the suspension and career prohibition on representing women to resolve the disciplinary complaint.

The lawyer was found guilty of improper conduct in two prior discipline cases, according to the ABA Journal article. In one, he was suspended for 15 months after he was accused of making unwanted advances to female clients referred to him by a group for abused women. In the second, he was prohibited from representing women in family law or domestic violence cases after he was accused of offering to waive attorney fees in exchange for a massage.

Bottom line: Some (many) might say that this result was quite generous to the lawyer. There is no mention in the article as to whether the lawyer was sued for his alleged misconduct.

Let’s be careful out there.

Disclaimer: this Ethics Alert blog is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670
jcorsmeier@jac-law.com
http://www.jac-law.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer discipline alleged sexual misconduct, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer sanctions