Ohio Supreme Court. ()
The Ohio Supreme Court has suspended an attorney for one year for sending sexually explicit text messages to a third-year law student who worked as a law clerk in his office.
The court found that John Mismas—a Willoughby, Ohio, plaintiffs attorney—had engaged in conduct adversely reflecting on his fitness to practice law when he propositioned the female law student in 2011. Although a disciplinary panel had recommended a public sanction, the court on June 12 decided that punishment was too light, saying Mismas abused his position as a mentor to the law student.
The court did not name the student but said she attended the University of Akron School of Law.
“We find that Mismas did not just send sexually explicit text messages to a law student he sought to employ—he abused the power and prestige of our profession to demand sexual favors from her as a condition of her employment,” the court wrote.
Still, the court ordered that the final six months of Mismas’ suspension would be stayed as long as he commits no further misconduct and continues to receive treatment for alcoholism.
According to the opinion, the problems began in November 2011 when Mismas contacted an Akron law professor stating his intention to hire a law clerk. He interviewed the student in question on Dec. 9, and in the following days began sending her inappropriate text messages of a sexual nature.
The student accepted Mismas’ job offer and he began to send more inappropriate text messages. At one point, he suggested the student perform a specific sex act for him. He did not comply with her request to confirm that he was just joking, according to the opinion. Mismas also pressured the student to travel with him out of town for business. She quit the following day, Dec. 22.
The student testified that Mismas became hostile toward her when she resigned and threatened to contact her professors.
The law professor who had assisted Mismas in finding a clerk asked the student in January how the job was going, only to learn that she had resigned and her reasons why. The professor filed a grievance against Mismas.
Mismas later testified that his alcoholism led to the inappropriate texts and that they had been jokes, but that he was embarrassed by his conduct. He has since started treatment for alcoholism. The court did not go along with the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline’s recommended public sanction, arguing that Mismas violated the mentor role he had assumed in hiring a law clerk.
“These first jobs can set the course for an attorney’s entire legal career,” the court said. “Attorneys who hire law students serve not only as employers but also as teachers, mentors and role models for the next generation of our esteemed profession. To that end, we expect that attorneys will conduct themselves with a level of dignity and decorum befitting these professional relationships.”