Legal Ethics

Lawyer is suspended after apparent sex act with client is caught on courthouse security camera

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A lawyer from Zanesville, Ohio, has been suspended after a security camera live-streamed an apparent sexual interaction with a client to courthouse deputies.

Lawyer Brian William Benbow was suspended for two years, with one year of the suspension stayed, in a July 12 decision by the Ohio Supreme Court. The Columbus Dispatch has a story, and Court News Ohio has a summary.

Benbow had admitted to misrepresenting the extent of his relationship with the client and the nature of the courthouse contact before stipulating to ethics violations. The state supreme court said a suspension was warranted because of the inappropriate sexual relationship with the client “and a course of dishonest conduct involving multiple false denials and lies under oath.”

The streamed incident occurred in December 2014 in a conference room at the Coshocton County Courthouse. The video shows Benbow moved his chair next to his client, and then placed his file and a winter coat over his lap. Together they placed the woman’s hands under the coat and she fondled Benbow through his clothing for the next eight minutes. The incident ended when Benbow received a phone call.

The client met Benbow after a sheriff’s interview about the incident. He checked her phone and patted her down to make sure she wasn’t wearing a wire. Benbow then told the client to retain separate counsel and blocked all communications with her.

Benbow had developed a relationship with the client, whom he initially represented in a 2014 child visitation proceeding, before a final decision was issued in the case. They exchanged sexual texts and Facebook messages, and had agreed to delete any communications immediately after receiving them. Benbow, however, had saved seven digital photos of the client to his computer.

Benbow represented the woman again when the father of her child sought to modify child visitation orders. The courthouse incident occurred after a court hearing in the case.

Benbow had no previous disciplinary history and he submitted about 40 letters vouching for his good reputation.

The second year of the suspension is stayed on conditions that require him to engage in no further misconduct and remain in compliance with his contract with the Ohio Legal Assistance Program.

Benbow and his lawyer, Charles Kettlewell, did not immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment.

Hat tip to the Legal Profession Blog.

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