It was recently announced that a Connecticut attorney has been suspended from practice for four months and prohibited from representing women for the rest of his legal career. These measures follow his violation of a judge’s order that he not represent women in family law or domestic violence matters after inappropriate behavior with such clients in the past.
In other words, this man acted inappropriately with female clients, was suspended for 15 months for that infraction, came back to practice agreeing that he would not represent women going forward, and violated that restriction again.
There are certainly situations where leniency is called for in attorney disciplinary matters. In this case, there has already been leniency – the prior suspension and prohibition from representing women. That prohibition itself can be questioned; how is it policed; what does it really apply to? Can he represent a business owned by a woman? Can he represent a corporation when the contact with the client is a woman? Unfortunately, those questions are now moot because he violated the restriction anyway.
The question for the profession is – does this restriction make sense? Is it fair? It is reasonable? And we suggest that the answers to all those questions are “no.” Ethical rules are not defined by gender. That this attorney behaved in an unethical, possibly even illegal, manner towards his female clients should anger all attorneys regardless of gender. Unethical behavior is unethical behavior. It is offensive to suggest that one can segregate one’s behavior by gender – the attorney can be trusted with men but not with women, so we will allow him to continue to practice so long as he restricts his clients to men only.
This is a bad decision; one that needs reconsideration. The women he treated badly should be justifiably enraged, but so should every other attorney regardless of gender.