It is common knowledge that a doctor who enters into an intimate relationship with his/her patient will typically lose his license to practice medicine. But what about lawyers? Is a sexual relationship between a lawyer and his client considered a punishable ethical breach? Is it a conflict of interest and should it warrant disbarment?
The story of Ontario lawyer Anthony Macri provides some insight into this delicate subject. Mr. Macri was acting in a family law case for a vulnerable stay-at-home mom with two young children. She found herself without financial resources to defend herself against her husband’s litigation tactics, which included allegedly vandalizing her personal property.
Falling for a “damsel in distress”, Mr. Macri began a consensual sexual relationship with his client, a coupling that both hoped would continue after her family law matters were completed. During the course of their romantic trysts, Mr. Macri loaned his client $60,000 to cover her legal fees and personal expenses. She promised to pay him back from her share of the sale proceeds of the family home.
Eventually her home sold, but she refused to reimburse Mr. Macri for the loan. That is when their relationship turned ugly. Mr. Macri retaliated by sending threatening emails and text messages to his former lover saying “You don’t want to screw me over like this. Your case isn’t over. You still need me.” Other messages suggested that Mr. Macri would divulge personal information to her husband.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Macri ‘s lover reported their relationship to the Law Society of Ontario, and was called upon by them to address the issues raised by his clandestine relationship. The hearing tribunal found that Mr. Macri’s behavior in both acting for his client and sleeping with her was a conflict of interest. His loan to her, which he did not disclose to his law firm was the basis for their finding that Mr. Macri lacked integrity, and his inappropriate and abusive emails to her constituted dishonourable conduct.
While physicians who engage in sexual activities with their patients are subject to removal from their profession, there is no similar policy with respect to lawyers.
Lawyer Macri was fired by his law firm; suspended from the practice of law for two and a half months, and fined $2,500 with additional costs of $2,000 payable to the Law Society.
Should lawyers have the same ethical edicts as doctors in Canada? University of Ottawa law professor Adam Dodek was quoted in the “Toronto Star”, saying:
“Lawyers who have sex with their clients should be subject to a mandatory penalty of disbarment, the ultimate penalty that law societies can impose on lawyers. It is surely time to revisit the issue in the public interest.”
Side note: Was Mr. Macri repaid the funds he loaned? No.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang