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Legal Ethics

Sex with Client’s Spouse Is a Per Se Legal Ethics Violation, Top SC Court Says

Posted Sep 14, 2010 11:43 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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An anonymous member of the South Carolina bar had an unblemished disciplinary record in 37 years of practice.

But he has now been admonished after admittedly having a brief affair with a client's wife.

A hearing panel of the state Commission of Lawyer Conduct dismissed an allegation that this conduct violated Rule 1.7 of the South Carolina attorney conduct rules, which addresses conflicts of interest, while nonetheless finding it "morally inappropriate and ill-advised at best." However, in an opinion yesterday, the South Carolina Supreme Court held the affair did violate the legal ethics rule.

"Sexual involvement with the spouse of a current client, while not expressly proscribed by the language of our Rules of Professional Conduct, unquestionably has the propensity to compromise the most sacred of professional relationships: that between an attorney and his or her client," the court writes. "Attorneys who engage in a sexual relationship with their client's spouse do so at their professional peril.

"Consequently, this Court alerts the bar, in addition to admonishing respondent, that a sexual relationship with the spouse of a current client is a per se violation of Rule 1.7," the opinion continues, "as it creates the significant risk that the representation of the client will be limited by the personal interests of the attorney."

The affair came to the attention of the attorney disciplinary authorities after the woman's husband found out and complained, according to the court's opinion.

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