Legal Ethics

6-Month Suspension Urged for Lawyer Who Claimed to Channel Client’s Dead Wife


Corrected: A hearing officer in Arizona has recommended a six-month suspension for a lawyer accused of claiming that she was possessed by the spirit of a client’s dead wife, then lying about in an unrelated disciplinary matter.

The lawyer, Charna Johnson, testified in the subsequent disciplinary hearing on the channeling claims that vague references to sex in e-mails she sent to the client were from the client’s deceased wife, and there was no sexual contact, according to the hearing officer’s report (PDF). The National Law Journal has the story.

The hearing on the channeling allegations pitted two experts who disagreed on whether Johnson must have been delusional. A state expert said that’s the inevitable conclusion, since there is no scientific evidence to support channeling, while Johnson’s expert said that’s an inappropriate value judgment that may contravene the religious beliefs of millions of people.

Johnson began representing the client during his divorce proceedings in January 2000. The client’s wife committed suicide a few months later, and Johnson later co-represented him in probate proceedings.

Johnson and the client both testified that they genuinely believed the client’s wife was within Johnson. Two witnesses agreed. The client felt his wife had come back to heal some of the damage from her prescription drug use.

“It would be easy in this case to get bogged down in a discussion of whether in fact a living person can communicate thoughts of a deceased person,” the hearing officer’s report says. But the case is not about that dispute, the report said. There was insufficient evidence of a sexual relationship, and the channeling had no adverse effect on Johnson’s representation, the hearing officer concluded.

However, the hearing officer dismissed Johnson’s testimony that she was confused by questions about channeling in the previous disciplinary hearing. Johnson said she was possessed by the woman’s spirit, and she was not technically channeling. “To pretend that she did not understand the common vernacular of what channeling is,” the report said, “cannot be believed.”

Additional coverage:

Legal Profession Blog: “Attorney Possessed By Client’s Deceased Wife”

Last updated Sept. 9 to correctly state when Johnson began representing the client.

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