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California Supreme Court approves ban on attorney-client sex

May 10, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Attorneys in California could face discipline for having consensual sex with their clients under a new ethics rule approved Thursday by the state Supreme Court.

The state currently bars attorneys from coercing a client into sex or demanding sex in exchange for legal representation.

Starting in November, even consensual sex between attorneys and clients will be banned unless it preceded the professional relationship or the client is the lawyer’s spouse or domestic partner.

The change was part of an overhaul of ethics rules for attorneys by the State Bar of California that required final approval by the state Supreme Court.

The justices decide whether to suspend or disbar attorneys found to have committed acts of professional misconduct or who are convicted of serious crimes.

The court approved all but one of the 70 new or amended rules recommended by the state bar. The rejected rule explained how attorneys should handle clients with diminished capacity.

Another rule that will take effect in November allows the state bar to discipline attorneys for discrimination and harassment even without a separate finding of wrongdoing.

The current rule requires a final determination of wrongful discrimination in a lawsuit or other proceeding before the state bar can take action.

The sex ban proposal was divisive, even though at least 17 other states have adopted a similar ban.

Supporters said the relationship between a lawyer and client is inherently unequal, so any sexual relationship is potentially coercive. But some attorneys said the blanket ban was an unjustified invasion of privacy.

A State Bar commission modified the proposal to create an exception for a lawyer who is representing a spouse or registered domestic partner.

It also required the state bar to consider whether a client would be “unduly burdened” by an investigation of sexual misconduct if someone other than the client filed the complaint.

The state’s ethics rules for attorneys were last fully revised in the late 1980s. Lawyers who violate the regulations are subject to discipline ranging from private censure to loss of their legal license.

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