Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court opinion disbarring a lawyer who had solicited and sex with 2 clients in they were incarcerated in jail. The case is The Florida Bar v. Blackburn, No. SC17-1514 and the opinion is here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2018/sc17-1514.pdf
The Florida Bar’s complaint alleged that the lawyer visited the 2 female clients in jail in Duval County on September 3, 2016. He deposited money in one client’s bank account to pay for the sex and promised another client free or discounted legal services in exchange for sex. The lawyer was arrested and pled no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge in the underlying criminal matter on May 25, 2017.
According to media reports, the lawyer showed the clients pornographic images before having sexual contact with them. One of the clients said then made sexual advances towards her by touching her and forcing her to touch him. Jail employees became suspicious when they noticed that the lights were out in the room. Criminal investigators also obtained a recorded telephone call that one of the clients made to her friend from the jail explaining what happened.
The Florida Bar and the lawyer entered into a consent agreement for an 18 month suspension with the conditions that the lawyer attend the Florida Bar’s Ethics School, contact Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc. (FLA, Inc.) to schedule an evaluation and abide by all recommendations made by FLA, Inc., and pay the Bar’s costs of $1,688.51 before he could be reinstated. The referee approved the agreement; however, the Court, in a unanimous opinion, disbarred the lawyer. The lawyer had previously been suspended for 30 days in December 2014 for minor misconduct related to his handling of a child custody case.
The May 24, 2018 opinion states:
“Furthermore, the Court has moved toward imposing harsher sanctions, see Florida Bar v. Herman, 8 So. 3d 1100, 1108 (Fla. 2009), and has stated that it ‘will strictly enforce the rule against lawyers engaging in sexual conduct with a client that exploits the lawyer-client relationship.’ Fla. Bar v. Bryant, 813 So. 2d 38, 44 (Fla. 2002); see Fla. Bar v. Samaha, 557 So. 2d 1349, 1350 (Fla. 1990) (‘Even the slightest hint of sexual coercion or intimidation directed at a client must be avoided at all costs.’).
“In summary, evidenced by this Court’s case law, under no circumstances should an attorney representing a client expose that client to unwanted sexual relations of any kind. Respondent’s conduct, which exploited his clients’ circumstances for his own personal benefit, ‘breeds contempt and distrust of lawyers,’ ‘demonstrates severe moral turpitude,’ and such actions ‘are wholly inconsistent with approved professional standards.’ McHenry, 605 So. 2d at 461.”
Bottom line: This lawyer engaged in highly improper and criminal conduct and consented to an 18 month suspension; however, the Florida Supreme Court disagreed with that agreement and imposed disbarment.
Be careful out there.
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