Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Court Suspends Lawyer Who Sought ‘Daddy-Daughter’ Sexual Relationship With Client

A Lancaster attorney was suspended from the practice of law for two years, with one year stayed by the Supreme Court of Ohio today. He was found to have taken advantage of a client, seeking a  “daddy/daughter dynamic in and out of the bedroom.”

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court suspended Andrew Russ. The Court found Russ violated three ethics rules by attempting to engage in sexual activity with a client and making a false statement in connection with the resulting disciplinary matter. To be reinstated, Russ must meet several conditions proposed by the Board of Professional Conduct.

Lawyer Offers Client Job, Then Pursues Sexual Relationship
In June 2021, the Muskingum County Juvenile Court appointed Russ to represent a woman identified in court records as “C.L.,” whose newborn daughter had tested positive for the presence of fentanyl at birth.

Russ did not know C.L. before representing her. The two began communicating by text message, and Russ offered C.L. a job working in his law office. He encouraged her to confide in him. After he learned C.L. did not have the support of her parents, he offered to serve as a father figure, telling her he wanted to give her stability as well as build her self-esteem, confidence, and independence.

Intermingled with the lawyer’s offers of encouragement were express solicitations for a sexual relationship with C.L.

Desire for Relationship Intensifies
Russ initially texted that he was “interested in a relationship,” and over the course of the next several days, the solicitations became more overt. He told C.L. he thought they had a “daddy/daughter dynamic” and that he was sexually attracted to her. He told her that he always wanted a young girlfriend about his daughter’s age to share a relationship “in and out of the bedroom.” Russ asked for explicit photos from C.L.

C.L. became uncomfortable with the messages. She texted her daughter’s father, “My attorney is a creep.” She later disclosed the messages to the guardian ad litem (GAL) assigned to her case. Based on the information, the GAL filed a grievance against Russ with the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel.

After learning about the grievance and that the disciplinary counsel was seeking to speak to C.L., Russ texted and called C.L. He wanted to determine if she was going to tell the investigators the truth about their communications.

Lawyer Eventually Admits to Messages
When Russ received a letter of inquiry from the disciplinary counsel, he denied the allegations. He suggested C.L. misled the GAL in an attempt to gain leverage in the case or to blame Russ if he failed to obtain a favorable result in her case. When told by the disciplinary counsel that the office had copies of the text message exchanges with C.L., Russ acknowledged he sent them.

Russ noted he sought a sexual relationship with C.L., but there was no physical activity. He also claimed that C.L. initiated the inappropriate communications to blackmail him and suggested “that she was known for engaging in this type of conduct.”

During a hearing before a three-member panel of the Board of Professional Conduct, Russ acknowledged he had no intention of admitting that he sent the messages until he realized the investigators had copies. He also admitted making false statements in his response to the disciplinary counsel. And he admitted that he tried to hire C.L and capitalize on her poor relationship with her family in an effort to engage in a sexual relationship with her.

Russ stipulated, and the board found, he violated several ethics rules, including engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law.

Additional Sanctions Imposed for Failure to Appear in Court
In addition to violations related to C.L., the board found that between August 2021 and April 2022, Russ was between 15 minutes and an hour late to six court hearings and failed to appear at four others. He acknowledged the hearings would have proceeded in a timely manner had he been on time. He did not offer a valid excuse for his actions. His absences led the Licking County Juvenile Court to remove him from the list of lawyers eligible to serve as court-appointed counsel. The board found, and the Supreme Court agreed, that Russ engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Supreme Court Weighs Sanction for Misconduct
When considering the sanction in a disciplinary case, the Court considers aggravating circumstances that could increase the penalty and mitigating factors that could lead to a lesser sanction.

The board found that Russ acted with a dishonest or selfish motive, engaged in a pattern of misconduct, committed multiple offenses, made a false statement during the disciplinary process, and harmed a vulnerable client.

The opinion noted that Russ had a clean disciplinary record, displayed a cooperative attitude once confronted with the evidence against him, and suffered other sanctions, namely being removed from the list to serve as court-appointed counsel in one county.

The board also found Russ was genuinely remorseful and that he submitted to a psychological assessment, began counseling, and entered into a two-year contract with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP).

The Court noted that even though there was no sexual contact, there is little question that soliciting sex from a vulnerable client can be harmful to the client.

“And in this case, we find that the harm to C.L. was magnified by Russ’s efforts to exploit her weaknesses to satisfy his own sexual desires,” the opinion stated.

The Court imposed the two-year suspension, with one year stayed, on the condition that Russ commit no further misconduct. The Court also ordered that Russ’s reinstatement to practicing law is conditioned on him providing proof that he complied with his OLAP contract, completes three hours of continuing legal education focused on professionalism, and produces an opinion from a qualified healthcare professional stating he can return to the competent, ethical, and professional practice of law.

The healthcare professional’s statement must address his ability to work in a professional manner with clients who are women. Until he receives that assessment, he must decline any court-appointed representation of women. The Court also ordered him to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.

2022-1512. Disciplinary Counsel v. Russ, Slip Opinion No. 2023-Ohio-1337.

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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