We live in a time where scandals are routine — chattered about and even celebrated. Larger-than-life ‘heroes’ so much as devolve into what the belatedly contrite Lance Armstrong calls himself — “that arrogant prick.” Or they’re molded into the stuff of deified delusional fabulists as apparently the case of Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o and his made-up girlfriend who ‘died.’
So what if our ‘heroes’ have“no spur to prick the sides of [their] intent.” What they do have in abundance is ego and “vaulting ambition” along with the corresponding feet and hearts of clay.
And to otherwise reliably remind us of “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” there are always lawyers. For in the realm of fabulists, as Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin writes “Don’t forget that we lawyers, we’re a higher breed of intellect, and so it’s a privilege to lie.” Or as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. even said, “Lawyers spend a great deal of their time shoveling smoke.”
Sex and an invoice.
So comes now Thomas P. Lowe, who runs a private family law practice in Burnsville, Minnesota, and whose troubles started because of having sex with his client and then billing her for services rendered. Also see “When I Get That Feeling, I Want Sexual Billing” « Above the Law.
Like better-known personages with uncontrolled appetites, was it because Lowe cared too much? Or worked too hard? Or was too passionate?
Or maybe the married 58-year old Minnesota divorce lawyer Thomas Lowe should’ve just moved to Texas where lawyer sex with clients has yet to be made ethically impermissible?
Lawyers and light bulbs.
It wasn’t that long ago when an unrelated Minneapolis, Minnesota law firm, Nilan Johnson Lewis, posed the question, “How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb? It was a query which, unfortunately for the law firm’s marketeers, also recalled a bad old joke, “How many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb? To which the answer was, “Lawyers don’t screw in light bulbs; they screw their clients.”
In Lowe’s case, it was literal. Or so says an Order signed January 10, 2013 concerning “In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Thomas P. Lowe, a Minnesota Attorney,” and wherein the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered that Thomas Lowe be suspended for a minimum of 15 months.
Lowe unconditionally admitted to committing “professional misconduct, namely, engaging in a sexual relationship with a vulnerable client and billing the client for meetings in which they engaged in sexual relations . . . .” Lowe’s actions violated Minnesota Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5 concerning reasonableness of fees as well as two rules governing conflicts of interest, Rule 1.7 and Rule 1.8.
Not wide open Texas.
In Texas, having sex with clients isn’t a violation of the lawyer ethical rules, specifically Texas Legal Ethics Rule 1.08, “Conflict of Interest: Prohibited Transactions.”
In most other jurisdictions, there’s a rule that bans sex between a lawyer and their client unless they’re married or engaged in a consensual relationship that began before the representation. But not in Texas. In 2011, the lawyers there voted thumbs down to a ban on getting down with clients. Also see Texas Lawyers reject a ban on Sex with Clients.
That’s not to say, however, that even in Texas, there still mightn’t have been a conflict of interest or an argument that a lawyer Lothario’s fees were unreasonable.
Photo Credits:”Lance Armstrong in Yellow – Nevada City Bike Race,” by John Trefethen, Trefethen, at Flickr via Creative Commons-licensed content requiring attribution;”Chinese Art,” by IvanWalsh.com at Flickr via Creative Commons-licensed content requiring attribution; “Thomas P. Lowe,” at Facebook, via Gawker.