The ABA Journal had a write up about a Des Moines lawyer, Clovis M. Bowles, 56, facing disciplinary charges for having sex with a client IN THE LAW LIBRARY at Waterloo.
Mr. Bowles later married her to cover up his error in judgment, but divorced her six weeks later paying her a generous $200 per month in alimony. (It was she who blew the whistle on him, by the way, and told everybody about the affair.)
Oh. my. heavens. He should have consulted with me before he did this and I would have told him in no uncertain terms, “Clovis, do. not. have. sex. with. that. woman!”
Mr. Bowles is the subject of an active ethics investigation by the grievance committee and is facing a 3-year suspension for his infraction.
Interestingly, his representation of this client was for a criminal matter, not a family law matter. That makes a little bit of a difference. At least it does in New York. Family Law cases as far as I recall from the ethical rules for attorney conduct, are treated a bit differently than other types of situations; in the sense that it is ABSOLUTELY verboten for a lawyer to engage in a sexual relationship with a client that he or she is representing in a divorce or family law matter. That can lead to automatic suspension of the attorney’s license. For other matters, like criminal matters, my sense was always that it is frowned upon, but not necessarily expressly forbidden. I am pretty sure I am right about this. Unless there has been a recent change, which is possible…..?
Is Iowa different on this issue? I don’t think so. Because according the the WSJ, the Iowa Supreme Court is considering a rule change that would make any affair with any client verboten. So that implies that currently not all affairs between lawyers and clients are forbidden at the moment; only some types of affairs, as is the case in New York. According to the WSJ the new rule will look something like this:
A lawyer shall not condition the representation of a client or prospective client . . .on having any person engage in sexual relations with the lawyer.
And here’s how the court explains why sex with clients is verboten:
The relationship between a lawyer and client is a fiduciary one in which the lawyer occupies the highest position of trust and confidence. The relationship is almost always unequal; thus, a sexual relationship between a lawyer and client can involve unfair exploitation of the lawyer’s fiduciary role. . . .In addition, such a relationship presents a significant danger that, because of the lawyer’s emotional involvement, the lawyer will be unable to represent the client without impairment of independent professional judgment.
Well: I think Bowles cooked himself by denying the affair to the committee in the first place. It is the lie that is getting him in trouble more than the impropriety of the affair. He was smitten by a woman he knew had some emotional problems, got seduced by her cooking, and before he knew it was seen grabbing her buttocks at the court house 24 hours before he went in on her criminal case. Says the Des Moines Register:
She’s the greatest little cook in the world,” he said. “But how many times do you urinate on an electric fence before you say, ‘God, this is not a good thing for me to do?’ ”
The Grievance Commission’s recommendation is based in part on a finding that Bowles not only had sex with a client, but repeatedly lied about it to investigators when questioned. Bowles acknowledges both of those offenses, but says he regrets his actions.
“I had an affair with a client,” he said. “And I lied when I denied it. I shouldn’t have, but I did.”
So two rules for young lawyers: Never have an affair with a client. But if you do and you are caught, never admit your wrong. Never deny it. It will only lead to a tangled web of more trouble and a loss of your license.
UPDATE: Sex with the client’s spouse is equally hairy. Read this.