Ira Mayo ()
A Torrington attorney’s license is being suspended for four months for violating a judge’s order that he not represent women in family law or domestic violence cases. The suspension is the second for Ira Mayo, who is also banned from having female clients for the rest of his legal career.
Mayo’s problems with women go back a number of years. On July 13, 2010, he stood before then-Superior Court Judge Robert Holzberg in Middletown and said he understood a court order severely restricting circumstances he could represent women in legal matters.
The hearing followed a presentment from the Statewide Grievance Committee that alleged Mayo had offered to waive a client’s fees in exchange for a massage. That allegation, in turn, came after Mayo’s reinstatement to the bar in 2007 after a 15-month suspension for making unwanted sexual advances toward clients who were referred to him by the Susan B. Anthony Project for abused women.
Flanked by his attorney, Michael Fasano, and Mark Dubois, the state’s chief disciplinary counsel at the time, Mayo responded “absolutely” when Holzberg asked if he understood the stipulation and if he thought it was “reasonable, fair and appropriate.”
The judge then gave Mayo a zero-tolerance warning, making reference to “the old three strikes and you’re out analogy. I know you’re a smart, intelligent attorney. Frankly, we’ve all done everything we can try to be reasonable and fair and try to balance the interests of the public as against yours and your family’s….But there will come a point, if there’s another violation of this order, that I will have no recourse but to put you on the sidelines for the rest of your professional career.”
But Mayo now says he misunderstood the order. According to state officials, he has improperly represented at least 11 women since he was readmitted.
As a result, the state’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel sought to have him disbarred in July. But under an agreement struck between Desi Imetovski, of the Disciplinary Counsel’s Office, and Mayo’s attorney, Rick Richardson, Mayo will serve a four-month suspension starting Oct. 1. After that, he can apply for readmittance to the bar.
Mayo said he was remorseful, but he was adamant that his only mistake was to represent women in domestic violence cases. He called that a “technical violation” of Holzberg’s order, and insisted that he’s committed no recent misconduct with women clients. “I’ll survive; it’s four months,” he said of the suspension. “I made the mistake of a bad choice. It could have been a lot worse. I’m dealing with the consequences and hopefully I’ll move on from there.”
The decision has outraged one of the women who filed a recent grievance against Mayo.
Last May, Mayo helped negotiate a deal with prosecutors in which Leah Castro pleaded guilty to third-degree assault in exchange for a two-year conditional discharge. The conviction was related to a domestic violence case from Aug. 27, 2012, according to court records. In her grievance complaint, Castro wrote she was desperate for legal counsel when she found out her children’s father had an attorney. Castro said in a phone interview she hired Mayo “on the spot” when she saw him at court, unaware of his past problems with female clients.
Mayo advised Castro to give the father custody of the children because he was the “lesser of two evils,” according to the complaint. The Department of Children and Families was threatening to take custody of the children because of the father’s mental health issues, the woman’s complaint says. “This trauma of Mr. Mayo’s advice is still affecting myself and my children today,” Castro wrote.
Castro also says Mayo made “sexual advances” toward her while they were alone in his Torrington office, informing her he would represent her in exchange for sexual favors.
She said in a phone interview Mayo often tried convincing her to come to his office while a secretary was away. Once there, she said he groped her and asked if she would have sex or perform oral sex on him. Castro believes Mayo is getting off too easy with the four-month suspension. “It’s not fair to me or my kids or the other women he does this to,” Castro said. “Eleven times he violated the court order, and it’s just a slap on the wrist. He should be disbarred.”
Mayo noted that Castro waited more than a year after the conclusion of her case to file a grievance and denied making sexual overtures toward the woman. He said he was never alone with her at his Torrington office — a paralegal or secretary was always around. He reiterated that the real reason for the upcoming suspension is noncompliance with a court order. “It was a technical violation,” he said. “I misunderstood when and if I could represent women in domestic violence cases.”
In addition to the four-month suspension, the agreement with state officials barsg Mayo from having female clients for the remainder of his professional career. Mayo didn’t know what percentage of his roughly 100 currrent clients are women. Those clients will be assigned to a trustee, tasked with filling in for Mayo while he is suspended. Asked how the ban would affect his practice in the long run, Mayo replied that he wasn’t “optimistic.”
Mayo has undergone counseling in the past to address problems interacting with female clients. “Do I think I have a problem with women?” he said. “Um, I think I need to be cautious around women — careful how I talk and act around them.”
Imetovski, of the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel, wrote in a motion for disbarment filed in Superior Court in July that Mayo routinely disobeyed the 2010 court order that said he couldn’t represent women in domestic relations cases. The motion cites at least 11 instances in which Mayo filed appearances for custody or dissolution matters.
She said Mayo’s disregard for a court order is part of the reason the disciplinary counsel sought to permanently exclude Mayo from practicing law. As for the settlement on a four-month suspension: “Every case is unique,” Imetovski said. “This was the right solution for this particular situation. It struck a good balance between him taking responsibility for [his actions] and protecting the public. He’s going to be suspended. And he’s now basically relegated to [representing only] the male population.”