Daily Court Reporter - News Attorney suspended for having sex with client, soliciting prostitution
Attorney suspended for having sex with client, soliciting prostitution
Dan Trevas, Supreme Court of Ohio
The Ohio Supreme Court recently issued a one-year suspension, with six months stayed, to an Ashland lawyer who was caught in a police sting for soliciting a prostitute and having a sexual relationship with a client.
In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court suspended Thomas L. Mason for violating rules governing the conduct of Ohio attorneys. Mason maintained during disciplinary hearings that he was innocent of the criminal solicitation charge against him and pleaded guilty to avoid negative publicity. However, the opinion stated the trial court record “contained strong evidence of actual guilt.”
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel charged Mason with violations for two separate incidents that began in 2015. The Board of Professional Conduct recommended that Mason’s suspension in part be stayed with conditions, and the Supreme Court adopted the board’s recommendation.
Response to Craigslist Ad Leads to Arrest
In May 2015, Mason indicated he responded to a Craigslist advertisement stating something like “Call me. We can help each other out.” Mason met with the woman who answered the call, and they had sex on several occasions.
Local law enforcement discovered Mason’s conduct in a sting operation and charged him with misdemeanor counts of soliciting sexual activity for hire, possession of criminal tools, intimidation of a witness, obstruction of justice, and falsification.
In December 2016, Mason entered an Alford plea to the solicitation charge in exchange for the dismissal of the remaining charges. He maintained he engaged in “consensual dating relationship” with the woman and did not know she was a prostitute. The trial court noted that Mason concluded it was in his interest to plead guilty, “notwithstanding his belief that he is innocent.” However, the trial court found the record contained strong evidence of actual guilt and Mason’s plea was “motivated either by a desire to seek a lesser penalty or fear of the consequences of a jury trial or both.”
Mason was fined $500 and the costs of the court proceedings.
At his disciplinary hearing, Mason insisted he was innocent and that the accusations against him were made by a detective seeking retribution for Mason’s “tough” cross-examinations in other cases. Mason also insinuated the woman involved had been acting as a police informant and lied about the matter.
The board found Mason “accepted little or no responsibility for his criminal conduct.” It stated that he minimized his role by blaming others and “the only remorse he expressed was for his own embarrassment and public humiliation.” The board found Mason engaged in conduct that adversely reflected on his fitness to practice law.
Representation in Divorce Leads to Sexual Relationship
Mason was hired by a woman identified in court records as M.S. to represent her in a divorce. Shortly after meeting, the two began a sexual relationship. In the first three months of 2015, the two exchanged more than 300 text messages, many of which contained sexually explicit language and innuendos.
Mason represented M.S. through her divorce proceedings, which concluded in October 2015. The woman then asked Mason to address some unresolved legal matters with her ex-husband, and in the following months, the two exchanged more than 1,400 texts messages, many of them sexual in nature.
The parties stipulated and the board found that Mason violated the rule against engaging in a sexual relationship with a client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed prior to the client-lawyer relationship.
“They also agreed that Mason’s conduct in this regard was so egregious as to warrant an additional finding that it adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law,” the opinion stated.
Behavior Warrants Actual Suspension
The parties jointly proposed to the board that Mason be suspended for one year with the entire suspension stayed with conditions. When the board considers a sanction to recommend to the Court, it considers aggravating circumstances that could increase the penalty and mitigating factors that could lead to a lesser sanction.
The board found Mason acted with a dishonest and selfish motive, committed multiple offenses, and caused harm to a vulnerable client. The board also noted that Mason had no prior disciplinary record, cooperated with disciplinary proceedings, and submitted evidence of his good character and reputation.
Mason testified that he was addicted to a medication prescribed to treat a sleep disorder, but the opinion noted that he offered no evidence that the medication contributed to his ethical violations, and told the board that he reached out to his doctor and the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP) for assistance just two weeks before his disciplinary hearing.
The board found that Mason’s misconduct justified a greater sanction than proposed by the parties, and the Court agreed. The Court accepted the board’s recommendation that the final six months of his suspension be stayed on the conditions that he not engaged in further misconduct, and submits to an OLAP evaluation. If OLAP determines treatment is necessary, he must comply with OLAP’s treatment recommendations.
The opinion can be found online at: http://www.courtnewsohio.gov/cases/2019/SCO/0409/180538.asp#.XKy-AaR7mUk
2018-0538. Disciplinary Counsel v. Mason, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-1269.
Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.
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Date Published: April 24, 2019