There have been plenty of cases in which women have not only had affairs with their divorce lawyers but have gone on to marry them once they are free of their former spouses. While some may question the moral ethics of such “attorney-client privileges,” the California Bar Association has decided that it will no longer tolerate the practice, much to the chagrin of many of its members. In fact, plans to implement the sex ban has reportedly split the rules revision commission, despite similar restrictions already sanctioned in 17 other states as of May 2015, which include a blanket sex ban written up by the American Bar Association.
If adopted, the US’s largest state bar association’s new rules that would subject any attorney found guilty of canoodling with a client to a range of punishments from private censure to loss of their licenses to practice law. Meanwhile, “The Golden State” currently forbids lawyers “from coercing a client into sex or demanding sex in exchange for legal representation,” as well as forbidding sex if it causes the lawyer to “perform legal services incompetently.”
It should also be noted that the California proposal creates a loophole when the sexual relationship preceded the attorney-client relationship. Additional exceptions to the sex ban already adopted in October involve lawyers’ spouses or registered domestic partners, as well as a clause that would require the state bar to look into whether a client would be “unduly burdened” by an investigation of sexual misconduct if someone other than the client filed the complaint with them.
The move to revise their ethics regulations for the first time since 1987, comes to light after it was revealed that the California State Bar investigated 205 complaints of misconduct under the current sex restriction yet only saw fit to discipline one case in all that time.
While those opposed to the ban (including the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s ethics committee) state that it is needless and “would be struck down as an unconstitutional violation of fundamental privacy rights,” those in favor of the rule contend that it “would provide clarity to attorneys and remove the difficulty of proving the sexual relationship was the result of coercion or negatively affected the lawyer’s performance.”
“If we have a very flat guideline, it gets out of the area of subjectivity,” stated San Diego County Bar Association’s legal ethics committee chairman.
The rules committee now has until March 2017 to decide whether or not to officially adopt the ban and send it to the California Supreme Court for official approval. In the meantime, the public is invited to voice its own opinion on -the matter.