State con­sid­ers ban on sex be­tween lawyers, clients

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - By Sud­hin Thanawala

SAN FRAN­CISCO >> The na­tion’s largest state bar as­so­ci­a­tion is over­haul­ing ethics rules for at­tor­neys for the first time in 30 years, and some lawyers are un­happy about a pro­posal that would open them up to dis­ci­pline for hav­ing sex with clients.

Cal­i­for­nia cur­rently bars at­tor­neys from co­erc­ing a client into sex or de­mand­ing sex in ex­change for le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Sup­port­ers of an all-out ban say the re­la­tion­ship be­tween a lawyer and client is in­her­ently un­equal, so any sex­ual re­la­tion­ship is po­ten­tially co­er­cive. But some at­tor­neys say it’s an un­jus­ti­fied in­va­sion of pri­vacy.

The pro­posal is part of a long-awaited shake-up of the state bar as­so­ci­a­tion’s ethics rules for at­tor­neys, which were last fully re­vised in 1987. Lawyers who vi­o­late the reg­u­la­tions are sub­ject to dis­ci­pline rang­ing from pri­vate cen­sure to loss of their le­gal li­cense.

A state bar com­mis­sion has spent months craft­ing and amend­ing 70 rules un­der goals set by the Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court. Other changes un­der con­sid­er­a­tion would al­low the state bar to dis­ci­pline at­tor­neys for dis­crim­i­na­tion and ha­rass­ment even with­out a sep­a­rate find­ing of wrong­do­ing. The cur­rent rule re­quires a fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion of wrong­ful dis­crim­i­na­tion in a law­suit or other pro­ceed­ing be­fore the state bar can take ac­tion.

Still an­other change would bring Cal­i­for­nia in line with other states by sub­ject­ing pros­e­cu­tors to dis­ci­pline for fail­ing to turn over ev­i­dence they know or rea­son­ably should know would help the de­fense.

“The first and fore­most goal is to pro­mote con­fi­dence in the le­gal pro­fes­sion and ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice and en­sure ad­e­quate pro­tec­tion to the public,” said Lee Smal­ley Ed­mon, a Cal­i­for­nia ap­pel­late court judge and head of the com­mis­sion re­vis­ing the rules.

The sex ban has di­vided the rules re­vi­sion com­mis­sion, though sim­i­lar re­stric­tions are in place in other states.

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