Sex with wife of incarcerated client leads to suspension

A San Francisco attorney, LeRUE J. GRIM [#37485], 69, was disciplined by the State Bar for misconduct which included engaging in sexual relations with the wife of an incarcerated client and abandoning that client's appeal, as well as that of a second client. Grim was suspended for three years, stayed, and placed on probation for three years on the condition that he is actually suspended for 30 months and until he has shown proof of his fitness to practice, effective July 31, 1997. He was ordered to pass the MPRE and comply with rule 955.

In this decision, Grim was found culpable in two separate client matters of failing to perform services competently and provide a proper case accounting, failing to avoid the representation of adverse interests and adverse interests in a business transaction with a client, failing to promptly refund unearned fees, misrepresenting to clients and filing false pleadings.

In one matter, Grim's misconduct involved serious conflicts of interest, including Grim's sexual relationship with his client's 20-year-old wife while the client was in prison for murder and a drug offense.

Grim testified that in late 1991, he traveled to Sonora to prepare for the client's trial and began staying in the wife's trailer. While sleeping one night, Grim said he became aware that the wife was in bed with him. He said he recalled thinking at the time that the State Bar was considering prohibiting sex between an attorney and a client. He told the woman that he might have to withdraw from representation of her husband.

He then testified that without his consent, he had sex with his client's wife only that one time.

However, the wife testified that she and Grim had repeatedly engaged in sexual acts before, during and after her husband's trial and that Grim had paid her hospital bill for an abortion.

The State Bar Court judge did not find any evidence that Grim intimidated or coerced his client's wife into having sexual relations.

Grim's fee for representing the client was to be a quitclaim for three parcels of realty owned by the couple, which he was to sell, deducting his fee from the profits. However, the property and the couple's $25,000 in cash became the subject of a drug forfeiture action instituted by Tuolumne County.

Grim also was found culpable of abandoning the client's appeal.

In 1994, the couple filed a civil action alleging improprieties in his handling of the deeds and his relationship with the wife. The case was later settled.

In another matter, Grim was hired by a woman to handle a criminal appeal on behalf of her son, who was convicted of various felony sex offenses and sentenced to state prison for life with the possibility of parole. His misconduct involved misleading the client about the case status for seven years.

Grim testified that he advised the client an appeal would be without merit and then told her about the appeal dismissal, saying they should prepare for parole hearings.

The client, however, said that was not her understanding of the case status. She took detailed notes of her conversations with Grim from 1982-93 and said she was shocked and deeply hurt that Grim had not followed through with the case.

Although Grim told the court that he was an old-style practitioner who trusted his clients and did not feel compelled to document everything, the bar court's hearing department found the client's recollections more credible.

In mitigation, Grim testified that he was involved in pro bono work, has taught classes and seminars in various subjects and has been helpful to new attorneys in the legal community. A few character witnesses testified to Grim's fine reputation in the legal community as an effective, honest and competent practitioner in the criminal courts. However, testimony by a few character witnesses was not accorded significant weight since it was not an extraordinary demonstration of good character offered by a wide range of references.

In aggravation, Grim has two prior records of discipline. In one instance, he received a private reproval in 1983. Although the discipline occurred many years ago, the court found that his current misconduct spanned from 1982-94, and he should have had a heightened awareness of his professional duties.

His second record of prior discipline was not considered in aggravation since the notice of disciplinary charges was filed after the occurrence of the current misconduct.

Grim's misconduct involved multiple acts, it was followed by dishonesty and concealment, he significantly harmed his clients and he demonstrated indifference toward rectification or atonement for the consequences of his actions.

Although the bar's trial counsel urged disbarment, the hearing department found it did not provide any supporting authority. The court said that although Grim's actions involved moral turpitude, they did not justify disbarment.

"Although [Grim] has been in practice for more than 30 years and is well-known for his zealous advocacy for his clients, the court is deeply troubled by [Grim's] absolute blindness to conflicts of interest and professional ethics," wrote the court.