Thursday, March 03, 2005

Oklahoma Lawyer's License Suspended for One Year for having Sexual Relations with a Client

I was anxious to post the information about a recent disciplinary case which is rather interesting. Unfortunately, I have been incredibly busy the last week.

On February 22, 2005, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case of State, ex rel. OBA v. Phillip John Anderson, 2005 OK 9.
The Oklahoma Bar Association filed a complaint against Phillip John Anderson for violations of the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct (ORPC), 5 O.S. 2001, Ch. 1, App. 3-A, specifically Rule 1.3 and Rule 8.4 . Lee Ann Stroud, Anderson's former client and the complaining witness, accused Anderson "of sexual assault against her in her home"; "of committing the crime of rape against her in her home"; and "of committing the crime of forcible oral sodomy against her in her home". Criminal charges against Anderson were filed but were later dismissed. Anderson "admitted having a sexual relationship with Stroud, and that he had had sex with her for the purpose of being hired to handle a medical malpractice case for her." Ironically, this medical malpractice case was against Stroud's former psychiatrist. Stroud had alleged that the psychiatrist had initiated a sexual relationship with her during her therapy. This sexual relationship lead to her divorce. Stroud hired Anderson for filing post-divorce contempt proceedings against her former husband.
Anderson had a history of having sexual relations with clients, including one divorce client whom Anderson later married.
In his testimony, Anderson stated that "he thought there was a specific ethics rule against having a personal relationship with clients, although he did not know which rule it was." "He stated he learned he should not engage in personal relationships with clients because of the toll it takes on him as the attorney and as a person."
The Court suspended Anderson's license for one year and assessed the costs of the proceeding. This holding was based (at least in part) on Anderson's lack of remorse. The Court distinguished the facts of this case from those of State, ex rel. OBA v. Robert F. Groshon, 2003 OK 112, 82 P.3d 99, in which the Court ordered the Respondent to be disciplined by a public censure because the Respondent showed remorse and because the incident appeared to be an isolated event.


At 8:39 AM, Anonymous Melody Wirz said...

I think that may have been one of the easy ethics questions in our PR class. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Depends on which OU PR professor he had...

Dee, you might want to change the "and practiced" to "or practiced..." in your bio. You don't want any unauthorized practice claims. But don't take my word for it, as I had the other PR "professor."

At 4:49 PM, Blogger Dorkamo said...

This story puzzles me with respect to the "lack of remorse." Even if sexual relations with a client and the subsequent penalty is a no brainer, how does remorse enter in. Was this a jury trial? Why does a judge distinguish the facts of the case if the discrepency is one of remorse?

While the attorney's response is laughable in terms of the overall effect these events have "had on him", they also indicate a lesson learned (remorse or not).

Can anyone help me understand the need for pandering in a legal proceeding?

At 12:45 PM, Blogger OKBlawg said...

Dorkamo, you are not alone in your puzzlement. Here is a quotation from Justice Opala's dissenting opinion: " This case is neither about rape nor about remorse. It is all about a dispassionate assessment of appropriate discipline to be imposed upon a lawyer who admits to having had a short-lived affair with a client, a then-vulnerable adult female with questionable capacity for consenting to sexual intimacy." 2005 OK 9, (dissent at ¶1)(Emphasis in original)
"Law is not a moral discipline that measures the degree of one's civil culpability by the ecclesiastical standards for gauging the gravity of man's sin. Viewed in realistic terms, law is an instrument of social control with its own norms of fairness and propriety." 2005 OK 9, (dissent at ¶2)(Emphasis in original)

At 3:02 PM, Blogger Dorkamo said...

Justice Opala has it half right: It is about a dispassionate assessment of appropriate discipline, but enforcing "social control" is by definition a moral control. (contra Kelsen, Kelsen and Fuller fn.3) LAW is morality if it is social control.

But I digress: While it is obvious that Mr. Anderson deserves some punishment, I find it reprehensible that Ms. Bates is allowed to judge the repondent's psyche on such flimsy evidence. Perhaps Mr. Anderson should have taken an onion ... "which in a napkin being close conveyed Shall in despite enforce a watery eye" (Taming of the Shrew I.,i.125):

Q. And I think we've been along this path for a while, so let me go back and try and rephrase it. Initially I was trying to determine what your level of remorse was. That's what started this line of questioning, and this question actually is these rules that you violated were designed to protect clients such as Ms. Stroud. The fact that you violated them means that she is a victim. Do you agree with that?

A. Yes.

Q. And having said that, I do understand that you see yourself as a victim as well, and you undoubtedly have lost a lot. Okay, I think that's all. Thank you.

In the OK v. Groshon case, the lawyer in question is caught on tape making sexual advances in the reception area of his office ... these are NOT the actions of a one time offender (as the defendant remorsefully claimed). My grounds for this judgement are as good or better than Ms. Bates interpretation of Mr. Anderson's "Yes". (It is also a nice touch that the interviewer gets to turn off the tape after inserting victimhood into the defendant's mouth.)

Let's be honest here, Ms. Bates asks two SOFT BALL questions that only a moron (honesty can be moronic) would answer incorrectly. Mr. Anderson's mistake was the assumption that he was talking to a disspassionate lawyer.

At 2:20 PM, Anonymous Briana said...

There was a jury trial, but he was acquitted, I believe in early 2004. This case was the action of the Oklahoma Bar Assocation disciplining Mr. Anderson.

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