Supreme Court tells family court attorneys: don’t have sexual relations with your clients

Posted Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Audience:, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys, Rules of Professional (Lawyer) Conduct, South Carolina Appellate Decisions, South Carolina Specific

While I’ve never considered it a gray area whether it was permissible for attorneys to have sexual relations with their domestic clients (except when representing one’s own spouse in a child custody or support case, which is merely a bad idea), some attorneys believe otherwise.

On February 1, 2012, the South Carolina Supreme Court gave us family law lawyers a definitive answer regarding sexual relations with our clients: don’t.  In In the Matter of Wallace A. Mullinax, Jr., 396 S.C. 504, 722 S.E.2d 524 (2012), Mr. Mullinax was publicly reprimanded for having a sexual relationship with his client, who had retained him to seek separate maintenance and child custody.  Evidently Husband’s private investigator caught them, at which point the attorney withdrew from representation and refunded Wife his fee.  Ironically, the client appears to have been engaging in adulterous conduct with another individual too (cheating on one’s own attorney is such a bad idea!).

The Supreme Court found this attorney’s conduct violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 407, SCACR, particularly Rule 1.8(m), which states a “lawyer shall not have sexual relations with a client when the client is in a vulnerable condition or is otherwise subject to the control or undue influence of the lawyer, when such relations could have a harmful or prejudicial effect upon the interests of the client, or when sexual relations might adversely affect the lawyer’s representation of the client.”

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