Reprimand For “Aberrational” Sex With A Client In New Jersey, Married Attorney Peter A. Allegra Sanctioned

View More Categories

It is not difficult to envision the innumerable complications and conflicts that sexual liaisons could and likely would bring to an attorney client relationship. It is NOT currently a set in stone VIOLATIONS but that should be corrected nationwide. The problem is the attorney will NEVER allow the necessary changes as it only potentially would be used against them.

Reprimand For "Aberrational" Sex With A Client In New Jersey, Married Attorney Peter A. Allegra Sanctioned

The New Jersey Supreme Court has reprimanded an attorney, adopting  the sanction proposed by the Disciplinary Review Board.

The DRB  letter notes that the attorney handled a divorce as well as an immigration matter for the client.

On October 23, 2003, [client] Ponti’s Final Judgment of Divorce was entered. Soon thereafter, respondent appeared with Ponti at her citizenship hearing. Her application was denied, however, because she was no longer married to a United States citizen and had not been a lawful permanent resident for at least five years. As a result, Ponti would be required to wait additional time before reapplying for citizenship.

On the day of the hearing, Ponti and respondent met at his office and drove together to the hearing in Newark, New Jersey. Because of the denial of her citizenship application, Ponti was emotionally distraught. After the hearing, Ponti and respondent went to a restaurant in New York. Afterward, they returned to respondent’s office after normal business hours. While they were alone in the office, respondent and Ponti engaged in sexual relations. Although respondent and Ponti disagree on the circumstances under which the initial sexual contact was made, both agree that they had sexual relations on the evening of the hearing.

Respondent admitted that, at a time of emotional turmoil for her, he began a sexual relationship with his client, Ponti. By all accounts, this relationship was consensual. Nonetheless, this conduct violated RPC 1.7(a)(2) because Ponti was emotionally vulnerable at the time. As her counsel, respondent should have exercised better judgment.

And

between April 26, 2005 and July 18, 2005, Ponti authorized four wire transfers in varying amounts, from her corporate business account, into respondent’s Buffalo Creek Ranch, Inc., checking account. In each instance, within a few days, and, on one occasion, on the same day, respondent repaid the loans by issuing a check either from his Buffalo Creek account or from a personal checking account he held jointly with his wife, and then signed Ponti’s name to the checks and deposited them into her corporate business account.

Respondent failed to provide Ponti with a writing fully disclosing the terms of the loans; failed to advise Ponti, in writing, of the desirability of seeking independent advice regarding the loans and their terms; and failed to obtain Ponti’s written, signed consent for the loans. Hence, he entered into a prohibited business transaction with his client by taking several small loans from her totaling $17,500; a violation of RPC 1.8(a).

The New Jersey law on sex with a client

Although it is not per se unethical for an attorney to enter into a sexual relationship with a client, the relative positions of the parties must be scrutinized to determine whether the relationship was prohibited...

Here, respondent did not engage in a sexual relationship with an appointed client; hence, unlike the attorneys in the above cases, he was not in a superior role vis-a-vis his client. Ponti, however, was in an emotionally vulnerable state in that her citizenship application had been denied, in part, because respondent’s firm made certain mistakes in handling the application in conjunction with her divorce. Thus, his conduct clearly violated RPC 1.7(a)(2).

Sanction

In mitigation, respondent has expressed remorse for his conduct, which was aberrational. He readily admitted wrongdoing, stipulated to the facts, and consented to discipline. He also promptly repaid all loans he received from Ponti; thus, she incurred no economic injury. Finally, respondent has no history of discipline in thirty-seven years at the bar. On its own, in light of the mitigating factors, the discipline for respondent’s relationship with his client would likely be on the cusp between an admonition and a reprimand. Respondent, however, also entered into an improper business transaction with his client. Therefore, the Board determined that a reprimand was warranted.

Source: Professional Legal Blog