Zenas Zelotes, a Connecticut lawyer who had an intimate relationship with a client, has been suspended from the practice of law for five months.
Superior Court Judge Frank D'Andrea Jr. handed down the decision June 28, noting that the suspension must begin August 1.
Zelotes, a bankruptcy lawyer, said the suspension of his state bar license will not immediately affect him because he practices in federal court. "The decision is purely academic in application and effect," he said. "Only a federal judge can enjoin my federal law license…It's business as usual."
He filed a motion, on July 1, to stay the suspension pending appeal. Zelotes said Judge D’Andrea will hear the argument on the motion on July 10. “If the U.S. District Court finds in my favor the entire state court action may be moot,” he said.
Zelotes said that when reciprocal disciplinary action is taken in federal court, he will fight for his constitutional right to associate with whom he pleases. "We have our right to exercise our First Amendment rights," he said. "Every attorney should be concerned about this [ruling]. What it says is, we can punish you for anything we want "
The case stemmed from Zelotes' relationship with a Connecticut couple who he met at a jazz bar in New London in 2010. Zelotes and his girlfriend exchanged phone numbers with the couple and then began seeing them socially. Eventually, Zelotes began seeing the woman, Terry Aliano, alone, and acknowledged having an intimate relationship with her. Zelotes then encouraged the woman to divorce her husband, the judge stated. "He believed he had an obligation to help her proceed with her divorce, and promote her welfare, and make her a happier person," Judge D'Andrea stated in his decision.
Aliano's husband filed a motion, that was later granted, to disqualify Zelotes from representing his wife in the divorce case. After he was disqualified, Zelotes and Aliano stopped their relationship, according to the judge's decision.
The judge states that Zelotes "knowingly injected himself into the personal life of Terry Aliano, and into the marital status of her husband, Michael Aliano. He became more than her friend, but developed an 'intimate' relationship with her and they began to 'date.'" The judge states that Connecticut lawyers and the general public would regard his conduct as "appalling and would thoroughly disapprove."
Zelotes is no stranger to controversy.
In 2010, he was in the news for filing ethics complaints against more than 500 lawyers nationwide who paid a Chicago-based bankruptcy website, Total Attorneys, for client leads. Those complaints were eventually dismissed. He also was an outspoken opponent of a federal law that bars lawyers from counseling clients who are filing for bankruptcy to take on more debt.
At the time he met Aliano, Zelotes had a law office in Norwich. After that, he moved his practice to Stamford for a time. Now, he told the Norwich Bulletin he has moved to Pennsylvania "for love" and has been representing his fiancée for five years. He told the Law Tribune he practices in both Connecticut and Nevada.
When Zelotes first appeared before the Statewide Grievance Committee in 2011, he told the panel that he did not think it was problematic to have an intimate relationship with a client. "When you are representing someone you have love and affection for, you're going to work twice as hard and there's no question about it. It is not a detriment to the relationship," Zelotes said. "My advice to a woman going through a divorce is, find a competent trial lawyer and make him your boyfriend."
The state Office of the Disciplinary Counsel requested a five-year suspension of Zelotes' Connecticut bar license. But the judge took certain factors into consideration in handing down the five-month suspension. While noting the Zelotes had been previously sanctioned in 2005, and didn't seem to be remorseful about his actions or understand the risks associated with being intimate with a client, the judge also said that Zelotes clearly believed his actions were benevolent.
In an interview with the Law Tribune on July 1, Zelotes continued to defend his behavior. He called the judge's decision "beyond the scope of attorney regulation," and accused the judge of imposing his personal beliefs on the case.
"The judge is essentially sanctioning me for my private conduct as a private citizen," Zelotes said. "Judges and lawyers are entitled to carry on and conduct their lives as private citizens… This is a judge who doesn't like the time, place and manner in which I date."
In response to the judge saying he is not remorseful, Zelotes said: "What the court calls a lack of remorse I call an unapologetic defense of the Constitution… This contest is about much more than me. I am fighting for our right to live our lives free of unwarranted government interference, to be secure in the privacy of our homes, and our right to be left alone. I am delighted to champion this fight."