Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Lawyer Suspended Two Years with One Year Stayed for Sexual Misconduct, Lying to Police

The Supreme Court of Ohio today suspended a Licking County attorney for two years, with one year stayed, for having sexual contact with the mother of an imprisoned client’s child and lying to police about it.

In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court found Gregory E. Carter of Newark violated three ethics rules. To be reinstated to the practice of law, the Court required Carter to complete at least six hours of continuing legal education focused on professionalism and appropriate client relationships, which must include three hours of sexual harassment training.

Carter challenged the Board of Professional Conduct’s finding regarding the sexual contact and its proposal that he serve a six-month suspension. He maintained his behavior warranted a fully stayed six-month suspension. The Court rejected the board’s sanction recommendation and imposed the two-year suspension, with one year stayed, finding Carter “poses a real and continuing threat to his clients – the vast majority of whom are indigent criminal defendants – and the public at large.”  The Court also ordered Carter to pay the costs for the disciplinary proceedings.

Today’s opinion stated that “Carter’s request for a stayed suspension exhibits a disturbing refusal to acknowledge the seriousness and wrongfulness of his misconduct” and “a lack of remorse for his actions.”

Chief Justice Sharon L. Kennedy and Justices R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, Melody Stewart, and Jennifer Brunner joined the per curiam opinion.

In a separate opinion, Justice Joseph T. Deters wrote that the one-year stay is not justified and that he would impose the full two-year suspension. Justice Patrick F. Fischer joined Justice Deter’s opinion.

Attorney Lures Woman to Law Office
Eric McClain was sentenced in two separate criminal cases to prison for a total of four years. In early 2020, McClain asked Carter to represent him in seeking an early judicial release from prison. Carter met with McClain’s mother and the mother of McClain’s child, identified as “J.G.” in court documents.

McClain’s mother paid Carter a $500 flat fee to represent her son. J.G. had no part of the contractual agreement, but during the meeting, she expressed her hope that McClain could receive an early release so that he could be home and assist in caring for their child.

Carter boasted to the women that he was very connected in the community and with the judges, and that they were lucky to receive his services so cheaply. Carter filed the judicial release motion in Licking County Common Pleas Court in April 2020, but the judge denied the motion, explaining that McClain had not yet served enough of his sentence to be eligible for judicial release.

McClain’s mother paid Carter another $300 to refile the necessary motions in July when McClain was eligible for release. After the payment was made, Carter sent a text message to J.G. asking her to come to his office that day. He did not invite McClain’s mother.

J.G. agreed to meet. She left her four children in the car when she parked at Carter’s office. J.G.’s 16-year-old daughter was left to supervise the other children.

Woman Records Sexual Encounter in Law Office
J.G. testified that before entering Carter’s office, she set her cellphone to record the conversation, so that she could relay information from the meeting to McClain’s mother.

J.G. recalled that when she walked into the office, she smelled essential oils, one of which, according to Carter, was called “slim and sexy.” He told J.G., “I was just trying to get you up here.”

Carter read to J.G. the draft of a motion he was preparing to file for McClain’s judicial release. According to J.G., she felt anxious while Carter was reading, so she took  some antianxiety medication. Carter acknowledged he saw her take the medication.

After Carter finished reading, he gestured to his lips or cheek and asked whether he could have his “reward.”

Carter then got up from behind his desk, approached J.G., and shoved her head into his crotch. J.G. performed oral sex on Carter. When Carter tried to pull J.G. onto his desk, J.G. stopped and told Carter, “I can’t do this anymore.” Her recording of the conversation stopped shortly afterward. Before J.G. walked out of Carter’s office, he used his cellphone to take two pictures of her, one in which she stuck her tongue out at him.

Inmate Prompts Investigation of Attorney’s Behavior
After McClain’s request for judicial release was denied in February 2021, J.G. told him about her office encounter with Carter. McClain wrote to Carter, expressing his dissatisfaction with Carter’s representation and his treatment of J.G. McClain also reported the incident to the Licking County Bar Association.

The Newark Police Department opened an investigation and obtained J.G.‘s recording of the office encounter. During an interview with a police investigator, Carter denied having had any sexual contact with J.G. Instead, he claimed that “she made advances” that he did not reciprocate.

After the detective told Carter he had listened to J.G.’s recording, Carter admitted that J.G. performed oral sex on him, but claimed he did not ask for her to do that. He argued their sexual contact was consensual. Carter conceded that his conduct was “definitely” unethical. He told the detective he was not initially truthful because he was concerned the incident would affect his law license. The results of the investigation were provided to the Licking County Prosecutor, who declined to prosecute Carter.

Disciplinary Charges Filed
In 2022, the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Conduct, alleging that Carter violated three ethics rules involving his representation of McClain, his actions with J.G., and his dishonesty with the police. The Licking County Prosecutor gave the disciplinary counsel a copy of its investigative file and stated that it reviewed the evidence and declined to press criminal charges “due to insufficient evidence.”

At a hearing before the board, Carter and J.G. gave conflicting accounts of their meeting. Carter maintained that there was a mutual flirtation between himself and J.G. at their initial meeting and that their sexual encounter was consensual. The board found that J.G.’s testimony was more credible than Carter’s. It determined that Carter had engaged in conduct that adversely reflected on his fitness to practice law and in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

Supreme Court Assessed Attorney’s Conduct
The board recommended that Carter be suspended for six months, with the condition that he complete six hours of continuing legal education. Carter objected to the board’s finding regarding his encounter with J.G. and its proposed sanction, which triggered an oral argument before the Supreme Court in May 2023.

Carter argued that both the recording of the incident and the absence of criminal charges contradict J.G.’s claim that he had forced her to perform oral sex. He also maintained that the photographs he took show that, contrary to J.G.’s account, she was not scared.

In its opinion, the Court rejected Carter’s claims that the acts were consensual and agreed with the board’s findings that Carter violated the ethics rules. While Carter argued that J.G. was the instigator, he admitted that “he had invited J.G. to his office for personal reasons, that he had ‘slim and sexy’ essential oils wafting through his office when she arrived, and that he solicited intimate contact from J.G as a ‘reward’ for the motions he had prepared on McClain’s behalf.”  The Court also noted that the prosecutor’s belief that there was not enough evidence to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt had no bearing on its conclusion that the board’s finding that Carter committed professional misconduct was supported by clear and convincing evidence.

In determining an appropriate sanction, the Court wrote that the primary purpose of attorney discipline is “not to punish the offender but to protect the public against members of the bar who are unworthy of trust and confidence essential to the attorney-client relationship.”

The Court analyzed three cases cited by the board of past attorney discipline of lawyers who engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct. The opinion noted that while J.G. was not Carter’s client, Carter did exploit the attorney-client relationship with his imprisoned client by luring the mother of the inmate’s young child to his office and coercing her into engaging in a sex act.

The Court wrote that Carter’s behavior undermines confidence in the legal profession, and that his misconduct warrants a greater sanction than the six-month suspension proposed by the board.

Concurring and Dissenting Opinion Maintained Suspension Should Be Longer
In an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, Justice Deters wrote that Carter should receive a longer suspension for his behavior. His opinion noted that of the three cases cited by the board to justify its recommendation of a six-month suspension, two involved lawyers who had inappropriate but consensual sexual relationships with clients. The third case involved an attorney who verbally harassed his female staff but had no sexual contact. In all three cases, the attorneys received a harsher sanction than was proposed by the board.

Justice Deters noted that an additional case cited by the majority resulted in the same sanction imposed on Carter. As with the other cases, that attorney had no physical contact with the client, and unlike Carter, the attorney was remorseful for his actions.

Justice Deters wrote that Carter was aware of J.G.’s vulnerability and the need for McClain to be released for the benefit of her children. Carter forced her to perform oral sex, the opinion stated, and while the prosecutor did not file a criminal charge, Carter’s behavior “could easily be interpreted as a felony sexual offense.”

Justice Deters stated that Carter’s action likely caused J.G. irreparable harm and that a two-year suspension with one year stayed does not satisfy the Court’s “responsibility to protect vulnerable members of the public from a predatory attorney.”

2023-0169. Disciplinary Counsel v. Carter, Slip Opinion No. 2023-Ohio-3992.

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