Attorney Who Bartered With Stripper Client is Suspended

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In October, Illinois attorney Scott Erwin will begin a 15-month suspension that was imposed by the state bar for alleged misconduct involving a client.  A female client who worked as an exotic dancer charged that Erwin had touched her inappropriately during one of the nude dances she had performed in his office.  It seems that the two had worked out an arrangement by which the woman would dance for Erwin "as a way to cut down on the legal fees."

Apparently, this barter arrangement worked well until sometime in late 2002.  By then, the woman’s legal bill had reached $7,000, which the report says reflected a credit of $534 for dance-related services.  The woman then told authorities that Erwin had touched her, which he denied.  An investigation followed.  Although criminal charges were never brought against Erwin, that did not prevent the state bar commission from getting involved, and after its own investigation, it recommended that he be suspended.

Now, while this kind of relationship, if you can call it that, with a client is a terrible idea, there is a good argument that the arrangement itself doesn’t violate any ethical rules.  In California, for example, as in many jurisdictions, even a sexual relationship with a client is not strictly against the rules unless the lawyer has intimidated or coerced the client.  See Cal. R. Prof. Conduct 3-120.  (I notice that it is unethical to continue representing the client "if such sexual relations cause the member to perform legal services incompetently," and so I would urge attorney readers in California to avoid engaging in both activities at once.)

And, in fact, the commission does not seem to have suspended Erwin for the bartering itself, since it cited only to conflict-of-interest rules and the general rules against "misconduct" (Illinois Rules 1.7 and 8.4 respectively).  Instead, it seems to have found it likely that he did commit the sexual battery the woman charged him with, and then did not tell the truth about it.  As for why the bar commission felt able to reach that result when the grand jury did not, it’s difficult to tell.

It is also possible, however, that the commission felt that getting lap dances from a client is "conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice" (a rule it also cited), and so I would urge attorney readers in Illinois to avoid engaging in this activity at all.

Link: Chicago
Link: Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission