Was that Wrong?

I’ve blogged on the fact that Vermont’s Rules of Professional Conduct do not include a specific ban on lawyer-client sexual relationships.   The topic relates to the latest installment of Was That Wrong?

For those of you not familiar with the column, in the famous “Red Dot” episode of Seinfeld, George Costanza had sex in his office with a character known only as “the cleaning woman.”  His boss found out.  Here’s their ensuing exchange :

(Scene) In the boss’ office.

  • Boss: I’m going to get right to the point. It has come to my attention that you and the cleaning woman have engaged in sexual intercourse on the desk in your office. Is that correct?
  • George: Who said that?
  • Boss: She did.
  • George: Was that wrong? Should I have not done that? I tell you I gotta plead ingnorance on this thing because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frouned upon, you know, cause I’ve worked in a lot of offices and I tell you peope do that all the time.
  • Boss: You’re fired.
  • George: Well you didn’t have to say it like that.

The full script is HERE.  The scene is HERE.

Costanza’s response served as my inspiration for a semi-regular Was That Wrong? column on the blog.  The column features stories of the absurd & outrageous from the world of legal ethics and attorney discipline, highlighting misconduct that I hope you’ll instinctively avoid without needing a CLE that urges you to do so.  To date, I’ve covered conspiring with police to set up opposing counsel for DUI and bringing a gun to your disciplinary hearing.

The latest is a case from Maine. Here’s how I envision it:

  • Maine Supreme Court Justice:  I’m going to get right to the point. It has come to my attention that you sent “unwanted text messages, photographs and video images of a graphically sexual nature” to a client.
  • Lawyer:  Who said that?
  • Maine Supreme Court Justice:  Your client.
  • Lawyer:  Was that wrong?  Should I not have done that?
  • Maine Supreme Court Justice:  Interim suspension.

The interim suspension order is HERE.  The ABA Journal reported the story HERE.

For me, the order and the piece in the ABA Journal highlight the difficulty that disciplinary prosecutors face when handling cases like these without a specific rule to apply.  Maine, like Vermont, doesn’t have a specific rule.  So, the case was prosecuted under Rule 1.7 (conflict of interest), Rule 1.16 (withdrawing/terminating representation) and Rule 8.4 (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.)

Specific prohibition or not, yes George, that was wrong.