For 30 years, California hasn’t made a single tweak to its ethics rules. However, as times are changing, so is professionalism. That’s why the country’s largest state bar announced last month that California was planning a major overhaul of its ethics rules. Currently, California is in the works of amending nearly 70 different rules as defined by the state’s Supreme Court.
One of the most controversial and buzzed about potential changes comes from a sex ban, prohibiting lawyers and clients from participating in sexual relations altogether.
The amendments to California ethics Rule 3-120 will closely resemble ABA Model Rule 1.8(j), which states that, “a lawyer shall not have sexual relations with a client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed between them when the client-lawyer relationship commenced”.
Currently, the California rule prohibits lawyers from demanding or coercing sexual relations with a client as a condition to representation. Likewise, it doesn’t permit attorneys to continue representing a client whom they have sexual relations with if it results in the lawyer performing his/her services incompetently.
Under the proposed sex ban rule, all consensual sexual relations that arise during lawyer-client relationship would constitute a violation regardless of whether the attorney provided competent legal services. The only exception pertains to sexual relations with a client who is the spouse or registered domestic partner of the lawyer.
Lawyers who violate these provisions are subject to discipline ranging from censure to even the loss of legal license.
If adopted, California will become the 18th state to adopt a sex ban that models after the ABA Model Rules.
Interestingly enough, in 1996, Illinois proposed a petition to the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct in order add a similar sex ban rule in the state. This proposition was brought up after the Rinella Case caused quite the debate here in the Land of Lincoln, but it was never formally adopted.
An additional public comment period on the sex ban rule is currently underway, but ultimately the final decision will be in the hands of the bar’s board of trustees and the California Supreme Court. California’s Rules Commission has until March 2017 to get an okay from the trustees who will then pass the proposition to the Court for adoption.