For giving $11 to incarcerated boyfriend, lawyer gets stayed suspension

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Updated: A lawyer who pleaded guilty to promoting contraband in jail for giving $11 to her incarcerated boyfriend has received a stayed suspension of her law license.

The Ohio Supreme Court ordered a six-month stayed suspension for lawyer Virginia Riggs-Horton, of Bellevue, Kentucky, in a Nov. 20 opinion. The stayed suspension is conditioned on committing no further misconduct.

The Cincinnati Enquirer has coverage.

Riggs-Horton had given the money to her boyfriend for the vending machine in August 2017 when he was in a Kentucky jail for a parole violation, according to the Ohio Supreme Court opinion.

The boyfriend had been moved to the restricted-custody section, and Riggs-Horton was not aware of rules requiring any money to be given to a jail guard before it is passed to a prisoner.

The boyfriend had said he wouldn’t get the money for several days if Riggs-Horton went through the proper channels, and he instructed her to hand him money under the table. Video surveillance picked up Riggs-Horton passing something to her boyfriend.

After the meeting, guards searched the boyfriend for contraband and discovered smokeless tobacco. Riggs-Horton said she didn’t give her boyfriend the tobacco, but she did give him the money.

After pleading guilty, Riggs-Horton self-reported her conduct to the Ohio and Kentucky bars. She is licensed in both states. Kentucky has waited to proceed in Riggs-Horton’s ethics case until resolution of the Ohio case.

The Ohio Supreme Court noted several mitigating factors. Riggs-Horton had no prior disciplinary record, she did not have a dishonest or selfish motive, she had offered to make restitution as part of a diversion program, she disclosed the conviction and cooperated in disciplinary proceedings, she had a good reputation, and criminal sanctions were imposed for her conduct.

She received a 180-day sentence in the criminal case, which was discharged if she committed no other offenses for two years.

Riggs-Horton tells the ABA Journal that she learned from her mistake, and she hopes to move on.

“I own it, I don’t deny it,” she says. “I made a mistake. I’m human. Lawyers aren’t perfect in any way.”

Riggs-Horton says she had consented to the six-month stayed suspension, but the Ohio Supreme Court rejected consent discipline in January and ordered a hearing for consideration of tougher sanctions.

The Board of Professional Conduct recommended the same discipline of a six-month stayed suspension.

Riggs-Horton says her boyfriend had become addicted to opiates after a jet ski incident and found himself in a lot of trouble because of the things he did to obtain the drugs. He is out of prison and hasn’t relapsed or been in legal trouble for more than a year.

Riggs-Horton had first met her boyfriend when he was 18 and she was 20. They reconnected on Facebook when he was out on parole and she was going through a divorce. “I believe people can rehabilitate and get better,” she says.

When she passed the money to the boyfriend, “I let my personal relationship interfere with my judgment,” she says. “As I told the professional conduct board, I can only learn from this situation—and do better and be better—because that’s what’s expected of me in this profession.”

Riggs-Horton practices both criminal law and family law. The criminal conviction and ethics case have had a big impact on her career, she says.

She was banned from the jail for two years as a result of her guilty plea, and she has not taken on any criminal cases in which the defendant is incarcerated there.

And she “dwindled down” her practice, taking only short-term cases, because she was not sure what the ethics sanction would be, she says.

The guilty plea also may affect Riggs-Horton’s ability to obtain employment, if she should decide to look for a job. The threat of a 180-day sentence will disappear Nov. 29 when two years will have passed since her guilty plea. But she has to wait another five years before she can have the conviction expunged.

“It is what it is,” she says. “I’m moving forward.”

Updated Nov. 21 at 4:15 p.m. to include information from Riggs-Horton.

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