There seems to be a minor explosion of cases involving lawyers who have had sex with clients' spouses. Earlier this summer, the Mississippi Supreme Court decided on a case involving a lawyer who slept with his client's wife; recently, Michigan and South Carolina jumped on the same subject.
We can't get enough of those naughty lawyers and their escapades. But as your career sherpa, I have to focus on the serious stuff--namely, what happens when the cuckolded spouse rats on the adulterous lawyer. It turns out that the punishment varies across the lot. So the trick for the libidinous lawyer is to pick locales where the punishment is light.
Here's the surprise: Some of the Bible Belt states seem to be more forgiving about adulterous lawyers than a relatively liberal state like Michigan.
Indeed, Michigan imposed pretty tough sanctions on lawyer Gregory Mikat for fooling around with his client's wife: a three-year suspension, plus a $5,000 fine. The state discipline board cited "two aggravating factors," reports the ABA Journal blog: "the emotional vulnerability of Mikat's client, who had tearfully come to him for advice about his suspicions that his wife was having an affair; and Mikat's apparent inability or refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct." For some reason, the board wasn't impressed by Mikat's testimony that he felt he hurt the wife "more than the client."
South Carolina, on the other hand, was a lot more gentle with a lawyer in a similar situation. Though the South Carolina Supreme Court held that the lawyer violated rules of legal ethics by sleeping with the client's wife, it merely gave the lawyer a warning. Moreover, the court didn't name the offender, and it even noted his "long-standing and untarnished professional record" in its decision. How nice is that?
But compared to Mississippi, South Carolina is downright draconian. Remember William Reed, a partner at Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, who carried on an affair with the wife of a client and childhood friend? You might recall that the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that Reed didn't breach his fiduciary duty despite the obvious betrayal. Now there's a state for adulterous lawyers.
Why are those two southern states so much more forgiving about lawyers who misbehave? Is it a matter of community standards? Arguably, South Carolina is more understanding of human foibles because its governor--Mark Sanford--has been grappling with his own issues of marital fidelity.
Texas, meanwhile, is thinking of amending its professional conduct rules to expressly prohibit sex between lawyers and their clients "unless the two are married or are engaged in an ongoing consensual sexual relationship that began before the representation," reports Texas Lawyer. It's unclear, though, if the proposed rule covers relations with a client's spouse. Perhaps Texas doesn't need that rule, because the Lone Star State has traditionally exonerated husbands who killed the wife and lover caught in flagrante delicto.
Any way you look at it, bedding a client's spouse or a client doesn't seem worth the risk.
But if you can't help yourself, you know where to go.
Related post: Adulterous but Professional.
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