December 22, 2017 • By Dennis Beaver
How should a client react if their attorney states, “I really feel close to you and believe that we could have a wonderful physical relationship. What do you think?”
But what if it isn’t a request, instead, a condition of continued representation, such as “I will continue being your lawyer only if we have sex.”
Do you tell him or her off? Give a good slap to their face and march out of the office? Find another lawyer? Call the State Bar?
This is not a situation any client – or any lawyer with half a brain — should ever be in, and yet, it happens, clients caving in out of fear, losers in a power struggle.
People in positions of power have always gotten what they want when it comes to sex and no law ever written will change human nature. But pain – or the fear of pain — is a great teacher.
When lawyers know that starting or attempting to start a sexual relationship with a client could result in losing their license to practice law, might this be enough to discourage the disgusting behavior exhibited by one Fresno family law attorney?
“Don’t worry, sex for keeping me on the case is just fine.”
“I am involved in a custody fight with my ex and am represented by an excellent family law attorney who works in a well-known Fresno law firm. This is a very tough case, as my husband was granted temporary custody. My hours at work were reduced, and I do not have the money to continue paying for his legal services,” “Sara” explained during a lengthy phone call.
“In our last meeting, he suggested that if we maintained a sexual relationship until the end of this case, that would be payment in full, and if I refused, he would ask a judge to remove him from the case due to my inability of paying.
“I became sick to the stomach when hearing that proposal, but told him that I would think it over and give him an answer within the week.
“To accept this would make me a prostitute. To say no, lacking the money to hire another lawyer, and maybe getting a legal aid attorney, my chances of success would be just about zero. What can I do? What should I do?”
Prohibited by California law
How common a situation is it where a lawyer threatens to drop a client unless they agree to go to bed? No one can place a concrete number on how often it occurs, but it is bad enough for The State Bar of California – and all states as well – to make it illegal.
Currently, 3-120 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct tell us that a member of the State Bar shall not:
1. Require or demand sexual relations with a client as a condition of legal representation;
2. Employ coercion, intimidation, or undue influence in entering into sexual relations with a client; or
3. Continue representation of a client with whom the member has sexual relations if such sexual relations cause the member to perform legal services incompetently.
If you are thinking, “What if there was an ongoing romance which began before the attorney-client relationship?” There is a common sense exception build into these rules, which states, “This does not apply to sexual relations between members and their spouses or to ongoing consensual sexual relationships which predate the lawyer-client relationship.”
The law is about to get a lot tougher
Change is on the way, raining on the parade of lawyers who lust after clients. A tougher law – which over 20 states adopted years ago — is expected to be approved by the California State Supreme Court.
So, currently, it is not a violation of the State Bar ethics code for lawyers to have a sexual relationship with a client as long it is consensual. This means it could begin at any time, a real “he said, she said” situation as to how consensual it really was.
The proposed rule states, “A lawyer shall not engage in sexual relations with a client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed between them when the lawyer-client relationship commenced.”
Even under current law, Sara’s lawyer could lose his license. But her concern is the here and now, what to do?
Got his boss on the phone
With our reader’s permission, we set up a conference call with her lawyer’s senior partner, explained the problem, and offered a solution:
“Find a good family law attorney to take over her case, you pay all fees and court costs, and the matter ends right here. Deal?”
He agreed. Sara cried. And it all took place just a few days before Christmas.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.