Attorney gets three-year suspension for affair with client's wife

By Correy Stephenson
The Daily Record Newswire
A lawyer who engaged in a sexual relationship with the wife of a client he was representing in a divorce proceeding should be suspended for three years and pay restitution to his former client, the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board has ruled.

In Grievance Administrator v. Mikat, a lawyer engaged in a sexual relationship with his client’s estranged wife while representing the husband in a domestic relations matter. At one point, the client even visited the lawyer’s office and tearfully said he thought his wife was having an affair — and the lawyer didn’t acknowledge his involvement.

The client found out about the relationship after he hired a private investigator, and subsequently complained to the Michigan State Bar.

After a hearing, a panel of the Discipline Board ordered a suspension of the lawyer’s license for 179 days, that he enter a monitoring agreement with the Bar for two years and pay $1,500 restitution to his client.

But on appeal, the full Board increased the penalties.

In addition to a three-year suspension, the Board ordered the lawyer pay $5,000 restitution for violation of Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct 1.7(b), 1.16(d), 4.2 and 8.4(c).

Although the state grievance administrator had argued for revocation of the lawyer’s license, the Board said that there was insufficient evidence that the lawyer acted with deliberate intent to benefit himself, in part because of his abuse of alcohol at the time.

However, the Board increased the penalties because it found two aggravating factors: the vulnerability of the client, and the “apparent inability or refusal [by the lawyer] to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct. … [W]e are unable to point to any testimony by [the lawyer] evidencing a sincere appreciation of the extent of his disloyalty to his client.”

In fact, the lawyer’s apology to his client was directed more towards his ex-wife, the Board noted, when he testified that “I think I may have hurt her more, most of all.”

“With this statement, [the lawyer] demonstrated yet again that the loyalty he should have owed to his former client was overshadowed by his feelings for his client’s wife,” the Board said.

The decision comes on the heels of a recent opinion from the South Carolina Supreme Court, which held that sex with a client’s wife is a per se ethical violation. In that case, a lawyer who had sexual relations with the client’s estranged wife on one occasion was admonished by the court, which cited his 37 years as a member of the bar with a previously untarnished professional record.