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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.

About the Supreme Court of Ohio

The Supreme Court is established by Article IV, Section 1 of the Ohio Constitution. Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution sets the size of the Court and outlines its jurisdiction. Article IV, Section 5 of the Constitution grants rule making and other authority to the Court.

The Supreme Court is the court of last resort in Ohio. Most of its cases are appeals from the 12 district courts of appeals. The Court may grant leave to appeal felony cases from the courts of appeals and may direct a court of appeals to certify its record in any civil or misdemeanor case that the Court finds to be "of public or great general interest."

The Supreme Court also has appellate jurisdiction in cases involving questions arising under the Ohio or United States Constitutions, cases originating in the courts of appeals, and cases in which there have been conflicting opinions on the same question from two or more courts of appeals. The Supreme Court hears all cases in which the death penalty has been imposed. These cases currently include both appeals from courts of appeals affirming imposition of the death penalty by a trial court and, for capital crimes committed on or after Jan. 1, 1995, appeals taken directly from the trial courts. Finally, the Supreme Court's appellate jurisdiction extends to review of the actions of certain administrative agencies, including the Public Utilities Commission.

The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction to issue extraordinary writs. These include writs of habeas corpus (inquiring into the cause of an allegedly unlawful imprisonment or deprivation of custody), writs of mandamus (ordering a public official to perform a required act), writs of procedendo (compelling a lower court to proceed to judgment in a case), writs of prohibition (ordering a lower court to stop abusing or usurping judicial functions), and writs of quo warranto (issued against a person or corporation for usurpation, misuse, or abuse of public office or corporate office or franchise).

The Constitution grants the Supreme Court exclusive authority to regulate admission to the practice of law, the discipline of attorneys admitted to practice, and all other matters relating to the practice of law. In connection with this grant of authority, the Supreme Court has promulgated the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio. These rules address, among other things, admission to practice, attorney discipline, attorney registration, continuing legal education, and unauthorized practice of law.

The Constitution also gives the Supreme Court authority to prescribe rules governing practice and procedure in all courts of the state and to exercise general superintendence over all state courts. Procedural rules promulgated by the Supreme Court become effective unless both houses of the General Assembly adopt a concurrent resolution of disapproval. Rules of superintendence over state courts set minimum standards for court administration. Unlike procedural rules, rules of superintendence do not have to be submitted to the General Assembly to become effective.

In connection with all of the rules for which it has responsibility, the Supreme Court generally solicits public comment before adopting new rules or amendments in final form. The Court first publishes its rules and amendments in proposed form. These proposals appear in both the Ohio State Bar Association Reports and the Ohio Official Advance Sheets and indicate the period open for comment and the staff member to whom comments should be directed. The Court reviews all comments submitted before it decides whether to adopt or amend a rule.

Pursuant to the Constitution, the Chief Justice or a Justice designated by the Chief Justice is responsible for ruling on the disqualification of appellate and common pleas court judges. The procedure for obtaining review of a claim of disqualification against an appellate or common pleas judge is commenced by the filing of an affidavit of disqualification with the Clerk of the Supreme Court. The Revised Code contains specific requirements governing the filing of affidavits of disqualification.

Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution sets the size of the Court at seven -- a Chief Justice and six Justices, who are elected to six-year terms on a nonpartisan ballot. Two Justices are chosen at the general election in even-numbered years. In the year when the Chief Justice runs, voters pick three members of the Court.

A person must be an attorney with at least six years experience in the practice of law to be elected or appointed to the Supreme Court. Appointments are made by the Governor for vacancies that may occur between elections.

Date Published: April 24, 2019

 

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