Standard lawyer jokes aside, attorneys must adhere to strict ethics guidelines or risk losing their licenses to practice law. One West Virginia lawyer learned the eh, hard way, that bartering is not allowed under the rules of professional conduct.
McGinnis E. Hatfield was stripped of his license to practice law, courtesy of the West Virginia Supreme Court.
Here’s the backstory. Hatfield and a friend visited the Cherry Bomb Gentleman’s Club back in 2013. While inside, Hatfield paid a woman (known in court documents as B.W.) for a lap dance. Hatfield had apparently made quite the impression on B.W., as she later attempted to retain his services to represent her in a divorce. When she couldn’t pay his $1,500 retainer fee, he asked for sexual favors instead.
Instead of engaging in the seedy barter transaction, B.W. filed a disciplinary complaint against Hatfield. As part of her case, she provided the West Virginia Disciplinary Board with transcripts and recordings of six conversations between herself and Hatfield. The eventual result was that the Board brought disciplinary proceedings against Hatfield.
The proceedings took several years to actually reach the panel, though. Hatfield’s case was delayed until 2017 on the grounds that Hatfield suffered a traumatic brain injury and put his law license on hold. Then, in 2017, he reactivated his license to practice — and the Board reactivated the charges against him.
The disciplinary charges against Hatfield were not for the faint of heart, and included the following transcript as evidence of the lawyer’s wrongdoing:
Male: “… Did you take your papers over to the courthouse?”
Female: “No not yet because I have to go over there tomorrow.”
Male: “Well, take them there and show them to them face to face, show them what you’ve got and say, look, I need to have forms for me to file, you know, to reply to this.”
Female: “I know, but I thought like when we first started out, I was just going to pay you. I didn’t know that you wanted sex out of the whole thing.”
Male: “Well, I’d have to charge you like $1,500 bucks. You don’t have $1,500, do you?”
Male: “So come on out here. Just come. What time do you want to come?” ***
Male: ” … [I]t’s just not going to work unless you do what I say.”
Female: “What do you want me to do?”
Male: “You know what I want you to do. I told you.”
Female: “Well, I’m a little confused.”
Male: “Well, there’s nothing to be confused about.”
Female: “Well, what do you want me to do?”
Male: “Well, I want you to let me eat your p****, and then I want you to let – I want you to suck my d***, and then, you know, I just have to – I’m as straightforward as I can be. And if you don’t want to do that, then fine. I don’t have any- I like you. And if you don’t want to do that, then we’ll just have to call it off.”
Female: “Is that not – all right. That’s fine. Whatever.”
Male: “Is that okay?”
Female: “I mean no, not really because I’m not a whore.” * * *
Male:” … And like I said, if you won’t want to do that, then that’s fine by me. I wish you luck. And if you don’t want to do that, then I’m not going to try to represent you. So that’s a benefit for you. And I’ll give you some money, too[.]” * * *
Male: “Why did you hang up on – why did you hang up on me?”
Female: “Because I’m not really that type of person, like I’m not just going to up and have sex with people.”
Male:” … You know, I’m shooting straight with you. I told you from the beginning that sex was important to me. I want some now. Nobody’s tried to trick you. And it would be safe, too. But anyway, if you don’t want to do it, that’s fine by me, honey, but you’ll have to get somebody to help you with your divorce, too.”
Female: “Okay, That’s fine.
The professional conduct violations alleged against Hatfield were numerous. Lawyers are prohibited from having sexual relationships with clients, they are prohibited from using harassing sexual language in communications, and they may not solicit someone to engage in prostitution. The Board also noted that there had been an aggravating factor: Hatfield had been disciplined three times before (once for failing to keep up with his continuing education requirements), once for using physical force in a courtroom incident with his former wife.
Sex between attorneys and their clients is almost always problematic. In fact, the ABA adopted Model Rule 1.8(j) that imposes a per se ban on lawyer-client sex (with an exception for sexual relations that pre-date the lawyer-client relationship).
Hatfield participated in a hearing in 2018 in which he testified that it was his voice on the tapes submitted by B.W.. During the hearing, Hatfield showed a total lack of remorse, justifying his lewd proposal with the explanation that because B.W. was a stripper, she’d have been open to an exchange of sex for services.
According to court transcripts, the judge asked Hatfield whether in retrospect, he found his behavior inappropriate or unethical. Hatfield responded, “I think my conduct in this whole situation is human. And that’s the only defense I’m offering. Lord knows, we all need that. So that’s as far as I’ll go with that.”
The judge next asked, “Are you remorseful?”
Hatfield replied “No. I have no remorse. I feel like I’ve been victimized.”
Then there was this exchange:
Judge: “So were you going to pay her to date you?”
Hatfield: “Well, in a way. Maybe barter a little dating.”
Judge: “What’s barter a little dating?”
Hatfield: “That’s where you trade.”
Judge: “What are you trading?”
Hatfield: “In this case, you trade the representation for sex.”
Justice Evan Jenkins delivered the ruling against Hatfield, in which he wrote:
“The combination of the serious misconduct in which Mr. Hatfield engaged and his total lack of remorse and appreciation for the wrongfulness of his repugnant conduct warrants his disbarment.”
In addition to the annulment of his law license, Hatfield was also ordered to reimburse the Office of Disciplinary Counsel $1,039.79 for the costs of the proceedings.[Image via Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]
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