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New York lawyer suspended for 2 years for improper sexual conduct toward opposing counsel during a pre-trial conference in judge’s chambers

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent opinion of the New York Appellate Court suspending a New York lawyer for 2 years for improper sexual conduct toward opposing counsel during a pre-trial conference in the trial judge’s chambers.  The case is Matter of Baker, 18 AD3d 62.

The lawyer, Lawrence Baker, was admitted to practice in New York in 1979 and allegedly engaged in the improper sexual conduct toward opposing counsel in the judge’s chambers during a pre-trial conference in 2010 during a pending litigation.  A disciplinary referee found that the lawyer made sexually suggestive comments to the opposing attorney, exposed his genitals to her, and kissed her and put his hands inside her brassiere.

According to the opinion, the lawyer “admittedly engaged in inappropriate conversation and conduct of a sexual nature, including touching opposing counsel on the shoulder with what respondent characterized as a ‘love tap.  Although (the lawyer) attempted to explain his admitted conduct as a ‘bad joke,’ the Referee found that his explanations in that regard were ‘disingenuous and calculating’”  The Referee also found that the “engaged in additional unwanted and highly inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature, including exposing his genitals to opposing counsel, twice kissing her on her neck and shoving both of his hands inside her blouse and bra and touching her breasts. The Referee further found that respondent engaged in additional inappropriate conversation of a sexual nature, which included crude sexual references to opposing counsel’s anatomy.”

The opinion found that the lawyer violated New York Bar Rule 8.4 (b) by “engaging in illegal conduct that adversely reflects on his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer” and Rule 8.4 (h) for “engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness as a lawyer” and suspended the lawyer for 2 years.

The names of the judge in whose chambers the incident allegedly occurred and the opposing counsel were not mentioned in the opinion, which noted that the lawyer had been censured in 2005 for engaging in inappropriate conduct directed toward a client but the misconduct was not sexual in nature.  According to the recent media reports, there are no criminal charges currently pending against the lawyer.

Bottom line:  Wow, what could this lawyer have possibly been thinking?  Do I need to say anything more?

Be careful out there.

As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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