May lawyers accept sex in exchange for legal services?


Common sense alone would dictate that having sex with a client is wrong and would not be viewed favorably by ethics authorities. Rule 1.8(j) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC)* mandates: “A lawyer shall not have sexual relations with a client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed between them when the client-lawyer relationship commenced.” Despite the rule’s clarity, attorneys continue to test this seemingly simple precept and even accept sex in lieu of monetary payment for legal services. A few of the cases are discussed below.

David H. Knight is the first Pennsylvania attorney to be disciplined under PA’s Rule 1.8(j) adopted in 2005. Knight agreed to a one year suspension for accepting sexual favors as payment for representation in a DUI matter.

While New Jersey did not adopt the ABA's Rule 1.8(j), it has been recognized that such contact can constitute a violation of RPC 8.4 as Attorney Misconduct. The New Jersey Supreme Court meted out a one year suspension to David Witherspoon who suggested sexual arrangements with clients in at least four circumstances. For example, he proposed to the daughter of a client to meet him in a hotel room for three hours in exchange for writing off $300 in legal fees owed to the attorney by the client. Subsequently, he offered to forgive another $200 if she would dance for him in a bathing suit at his office.

Oklahoma lawyer, Jeremy Daniel Oliver offered his female client the opportunity to pay for legal services by having sex with him. In the alternative, he suggested that either her 18 or 13 year old daughter could be substituted. All via text message!

Tennessee lawyer Mark Saripkin accepted oral sex from a teen client as payment for services. Saripkin surrendered his license after being investigated for the behavior.

William Wallace, a southwestern Indiana attorney, had sex with a female client to satisfy a $550 debt for legal work. Reportedly, he withdrew as a candidate for county prosecutor in June 2010 after this unwise arrangement came to light.

This sex with client business is frowned upon - even if you don’t ultimately charge for the legal services performed for the client/paramour. Yet another Indiana attorney had a sexual relationship with a client who he represented in a dissolution matter. After the sexual relationship began, the attorney refunded the fees paid by the client but continued to represent her for about two months. The court then granted his motion to withdraw his appearance. The client and her spouse reconciled and dismissed the dissolution action. The Indiana Supreme Court imposed a 30-day suspension.

You can’t go wrong if you live by the following: Do not have sex with clients and do not suggest to a client that you will accept sexual services in exchange for legal services, In fact, don’t even THINK about having sex with your client (or at least extinguish such thoughts immediately or sooner). Pretty Simple.

* The majority of states have adopted some version of Rule 1.8(j); however, the RPCs of a handful of states remain silent on the issue.

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