The highly unusual news from Chicago of 25-year old lawyer Reema Bajaj accused of moonlighting as the “Sycamore Attorney Accused Of Prostitution” is right out of news of the weird. She has been charged in DeKalb, Illinois with 2 misdemeanor counts and 1 felony count of prostitution, which allegedly took place in August 2010. Also see “Above the Law: A Legal Tabloid.”
The last time anything this odd made the national news, it was last year when the secret life of lawyer Marcy Baron was exposed as the “Long Island lawyer accused by boyfriend of being Internet dominatrix.”
As for Reema N. Bajaj, at this point, other than making the usual vigorous defense assertions and maintaining her presumption of innocence, one can only hope for Bajaj’s sake that this is nothing more than a case of “much ado.”
Still, these stories are reminders for lawyers that there’s always more at risk beyond criminal prosecution, possible conviction, embarrassment and damaged reputation “For Lawyers Who Misbehave, Stakes Can Be Higher.” On March 25, 20111, writing at NYTimes.com, John Eligon noted that even if a lawyer is eventually cleared of misbehavior, “Some lawyers, knowing how imperfect the system can be, say they always have it in the backs of their minds to stay clear of potential trouble.”
And trouble has a way of finding some people. In Florida this past March, for example, a story ran about a “Jupiter attorney disbarred after pleading guilty to running an illegal internet gambling ring.”
Lawyer ethics and discipline.
Moreover, contrary to what some members of the public think, there are indeed jurisdictions known for their gung-ho prosecutorial bent when it comes to investigating and imposing lawyer discipline. Consequently, the public disclosure of alleged lawyer misconduct can initiate a probable cause inquiry and the potential loss of a lawyer’s license to practice. The ethical rule most likely implicated is the one on “Misconduct,” Rule 8.4.
Comment  to this rule is instructive: “Many kinds of illegal conduct reflect adversely on fitness to practice law, such as offenses involving fraud and the offense of willful failure to file an income tax return. However, some kinds of offenses carry no such implication. Traditionally, the distinction was drawn in terms of offenses involving “moral turpitude.” That concept can be construed to include offenses concerning some matters of personal morality, such as adultery and comparable offenses, that have no specific connection to fitness for the practice of law.
“Although a lawyer is personally answerable to the entire criminal law, a lawyer should be professionally answerable only for offenses that indicate lack of those characteristics relevant to law practice. Offenses involving violence, dishonesty, breach of trust, or serious interference with the administration of justice are in that category. A pattern of repeated offenses, even ones of minor significance when considered separately, can indicate indifference to legal obligation.”
And if that’s not clear or expansive enough, then there’s always reliance on the legal encyclopedia, “Corpus Juris Secundum,” which goes on to add, “Attorneys, in performance of the obligations and duties assumed, must conform to certain standards in relation to their clients, to the court, to the profession and to the public, and an attorney can be deprived of his rights as an attorney by the judgement of the court for moral or professional delinquency.
“While a license to engage in the practice of law will not be revoked for trivial causes, impropriety, or breaches of good taste, discipline for misconduct is not limited to cases where the attorney’s acts are infamous or of a gross or serious nature, and the courts will ordinarily discipline for offenses involving moral turpitude.” See 7 CJ.S. Attorney & Client §19 (1937).