By Sudhin Thanawala
November 28, 2016
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The nation’s largest state bar association is overhauling ethics rules for attorneys for the first time in 30 years, and some lawyers are unhappy about a proposal that would open them up to discipline for having sex with clients.
California currently bars attorneys from coercing a client into sex or demanding sex in exchange for legal representation.
Supporters of an all-out ban say the relationship between a lawyer and client is inherently unequal, so any sexual relationship is potentially coercive. But some attorneys say it’s an unjustified invasion of privacy.
The proposal is part of a long-awaited shake-up of the state bar association’s ethics rules for attorneys, which were last fully revised in 1987. Lawyers who violate the regulations are subject to discipline ranging from private censure to loss of their legal license.
A state bar commission has spent months crafting and amending 70 rules under goals set by the California Supreme Court. Other changes under consideration would allow 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.
Still another change would bring California in line with other states by subjecting prosecutors to discipline for failing to turn over evidence they know or reasonably should know would help the defense.
“The first and foremost goal is to promote confidence in the legal profession and administration of justice and ensure adequate protection to the public,” said Lee Smalley Edmon, a California appellate court judge and head of the commission revising the rules.
The sex ban has divided the rules revision commission, though similar restrictions are in place in other states. As of May 2015, 17 states had adopted a blanket sex ban drafted by the American Bar Association, according to an ABA committee that looked at implementation of the group’s ban.
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