Muni-mail – Attorney Bartered Legal Work for Sex – In re Witherspoon
[07-29-10 – 9:29 pm] This morning, the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered a one-year suspension from practice for an attorney who sought to barter professional legal services and discount fees in exchange for sexual favors from several of his female clients. In this disciplinary case, captioned In re Witherspoon, the Justices in the majority also ordered that the respondent complete an approved course in sensitivity training and t he institution of appropriate accounting controls.
This case is of enormous importance for a number of reasons. First, under current practice, it is only in the rarest of circumstances that the Supreme Court publishes a disciplinary opinion. Moreover, typically, disciplinary decisions are per curiam and seldom, if ever, have dissents. However, in the Witherspoon matter, two of the Justices dissented from the majority opinion written by Justice Hoens and recommended disbarment as the only appropriate discipline. The majority used this case to underscore that, apart from the knowing misappropriation of entrusted funds, New Jersey attorney disciplinary law has no bright-line rules that require disbarment in every case. Rather, each case is fact-sensitive and will be decided on its own merits. Finally, this case contains a detailed compendium and extensive review of how the Court has treated attorney sexual misconduct disciplinary cases over the past 60 years.
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