ABA Journal


Legal Ethics

Lawyer who complained of Web ads for 500 other attorneys now has new cause: His own suspension

Jul 3, 2013, 03:49 pm CDT


To be clear ... this is NOT a case where I asked a “client” out on a date … this is a case in which I filed an appearance on behalf of a woman with whom I had an existing intimate relationship. She could no longer afford to retain her lawyer. I intervened to protect her. Heaven forbid.

There was absolutely NO critique of my performance as counsel. I did an exceptional job. I was sanctioned — not for what I did in a courtroom — but for what I did in a KITCHEN.

Maybe some people warm up to the idea of the bar citing RPC 8.4(4) as a warrant to regulate every intimate detail of our personal lives -- but I for one do not. The bar has no more right to punish me for engaging in lawful conduct or exercising my Constitutional rights than it does any other citizen.

That is what this case is about. It’s not about my love life. It’s a fight over the scope of personal conduct subject to attorney regulation. It’s about insisting upon clear and meaningful standards and fair notice.

Anyone who values their privacy and civil liberties ought to understand that. I’m being punished today because the state take offense to the time place and manner of my dinner dates. It’s a slippery slope. Today its me defending my private conduct in a kitchen … tomorrow it could be you defending your private conduct somewhere else. Decisions of this sort are reason for alarm.

The Superior Court completely avoided the Constitutional questions raised. The case law on point, however, is firmly against this outcome. I will raise these issues before a federal judge ... and I will vindicate our collective rights.

By Zenas Zelotes, Esq. on 2013 07 03, 7:05 pm CDT

Narcissistic nonsense. It's not about what you do in a kitchen or your personal life. You're free to have the personal relationship of your choice. It's about what you do with your law license, which can be regulated by the state as it is not an absolute right. All professions have prohibitions based on the power imbalance and vulnerability that can severely harm the less powerful person if the professional is having an intimate relationship with the client. The power imbalance that already exists is magnified exponentially by an intimate relationship. But, of course, you don't see it because you're the one in the powerful position. In your narcissism, somehow you think this is about you.

Your argument here and elsewhere that the lawyer in an intimate relationship with the client will protect her interests better is disproved by the divorce case itself. The worst harms are done by a former intimate. The worst betrayals. When intimate relationships sour, some people become trapped, others exert great effort to do as much harm as possible. Setting yourself up as an intimate replays the exact pattern that divorce cases reflect and could lead to the worst outcome for a vulnerable client for the same reasons.

By Maria on 2013 07 05, 11:31 am CDT

@ 2 doesn't address a key point: was this a pre-existing relationship? It seems @ 1 claims it was. If so, then he could represent the person.

However, there is a problem of whether there would be a conflict on the specific case if the lawyer has an interest in the outcome. In a divorce case for a romantic partner, this could be the case.

But, still, the conflict issue is a much less severe issue than engaging in a romantic relationship with a client after representation began.

By John on 2013 07 05, 1:19 pm CDT

Everybody I know faced with that situation, and it is not uncommon -- one's significant other requiring legal help -- hires a friend they trust enough to defer to you on pleadings to keep costs down. Granted I practice family law so the prohibition is more germane, because relationships can lead to marriages and babies and those sometimes lead back to family court, leading to a genuine conflict. Even then this is a low-cost commonly used solution. The only reason I can think of that it wouldn't work is that after filing 500 ethics complaints is that you may not have many lawyer friends left.

By Michael on 2013 07 08, 3:21 pm CDT

@ 1: You're lucky While there are good arguments to be made on either side; what it comes down to is the fact that the State Bars in this country control who gets to practice law. Nothing is more perilous than representing intimates, family, and sometimes friends. They often expect perfection--or otherwise unattainable goals. They often expect it for free. And when things go south with their case, or their representation, they're often the first people to whinge to the State Bar.

By BMF on 2013 07 08, 5:49 pm CDT

Who filed the grievance to start the process ?

By Docile Jim Brady – Columbus OH 43209 on 2013 07 09, 12:26 am CDT

There are just some people who are arrogant enough to think that they can do everything and get away with it. He may be a good lawyer but his arrogance will be the end of his career.

By Willard Trimble on 2013 07 11, 4:27 am CDT

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