Kansas lawyer suspended indefinitely for, inter alia, engaging in a sexual relationship with the president of a corporation she represented

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Kansas Supreme Court opinion suspending a lawyer for engaging in a sexual relationship with the president of a corporation that she represented as general counsel, drafting an employment contract for the person, and failing to report the person’s misconduct.  The opinion is In re Allison L. Bergman, No. 115,448 (Oct. 28, 2016) and the Kansas Supreme Court opinion is here: http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/Opinions/SupCt/2016/20161028/115448.pdf.

According to the opinion, the lawyer served as outside general counsel for the Kansas City Terminal Railway Company.  During her representation of the company, she began a sexual relationship with the company’s president and board chair (Mader). “From 2002 until January 2012, Respondent and Mader were in a personal, close relationship.  At times the relationship was romantic and sexual. At all times from 2002 to January 2012, the relationship between Mader and Respondent was a very close, deep, meaningful, sustained, loving, caring, intimate and special friendship with frequent social and personal interactions with each other.”

The lawyer failed to disclose the relationship to the corporation’s board.  She later drafted the president’s employment contract and, in addition, the lawyer failed to report to the board the president’s breach of various fiduciary duties that he owed to the corporation.

The opinion states that the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct, like the ABA Model Rules (and most state Bar Rules), prohibit a lawyer from having “sexual relations with a client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed between them when the client-lawyer relationship commenced.”

“We agree with the hearing panel that probation is not an appropriate disposition.  As the panel concluded, the respondent’s misconduct is serious, involving significant conflicts of interest as well as dishonest behavior. Further, the panel found respondent failed to take full responsibility for her actions, and the record supports that finding. We, therefore, conclude it would not be in the best interests of the citizens of the state of Kansas for the respondent to be placed on probation. We agree with the panel’s recommendation that the respondent’s license to practice law in the state of Kansas be suspended for an indefinite period of time.”

Bottom line:  This case raises interesting questions regarding the scope and application of Bar Rules which prohibit a lawyer from engaging in a sexual relationship with a client under unless the relationship commenced before the representation began.  The Bar Rules in most (if not all) jurisdictions state that when a lawyer is hired by a corporation, the “client” is the corporation, not the president or other board members and directors.  This raises the question of whether the lawyer can be found guilty of violating the Bar Rule prohibiting sex with a client if he or she did not actually have sex with the “client” corporation but admitted to having sex with the president?  I would think not…and I would urge lawyers not to test the application of the rule!

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

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About jcorsmeier

Joseph A. Corsmeier is an “AV” rated attorney practicing in Clearwater, Florida. He concentrates his practice primarily in the areas of defense of attorney disciplinary matters before The Florida Bar, attorney admission matters before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, and professional license and disciplinary matters before the Boards of the State of Florida. He provides expert analysis and opinion on conflict of interest and other attorney disqualification and legal malpractice issues and he testified as an expert in the Florida courts. He served as an Assistant State Attorney in the Sixth Judicial Circuit from 1986 to 1990 where he prosecuted felonies exclusively from June 1987, and as Bar Counsel for The Florida Bar’s Department of Lawyer Regulation from 1990 to 1998. He also practices in the areas of estate planning and Medicaid qualification, workers’ compensation, and labor law. Mr. Corsmeier is the author of numerous articles for various bar publications, has spoken at numerous local and statewide seminars on various topics, including ethics and professionalism, and was an instructor of legal ethics for paralegals at Rollins College until the Tampa campus closed. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University and his J.D. from Mercer University. He is admitted to practice in all Florida Courts, the Supreme Court of the United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the Middle District of Florida. He is a member of The Florida Bar, American Bar Association, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and the Clearwater and St. Petersburg Bar Associations.
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