In 2011, John Daniel Mismas, an asbestos litigator, was seeking a clerk. He turned to a professor at the University of Akron School of Law, who gathered up three candidates for interviews. Mismas chose Ms. C. But it soon became clear that he was seeking more than a clerk, as he began to make inappropriate comments and sexual suggestions even before she even started.
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After two weeks of comments, escalating to propositions, and finally, ultimatums, she had enough. When asked by her professor how the job was going, she disclosed her reasons for quitting. The two filed a grievance, and earlier this week, the Ohio Supreme Court suspended Mismas from the practice of law for one year (with six months stayed on conditions), a punishment far and above the public reprimand that the disciplinary panel and board had recommended. (H/T to Above the Law)
More Than Drunk Texting
Though his attorney classified this as a case of "simply operating a cellphone when under the influence," the Ohio Supreme Court made it clear that this was far more than that -- this was a disturbing example of sexual harassment, a lawyer preying on a law student.
The court noted that the previous disciplinary reports and the parties stipulations failed to elaborate on the texts, but "in order to fully realize the gravity of the misconduct," it would be necessary to recap the texts in graphic detail.
Before work even started, he was sending late night texts that stated that she'd "need to take a few beatings" before she could learn to give one. He then clarified by restating the phrase in sexual terms and quizzing her on her sexual history. She told him that his question was inappropriate.
After returning to work-related topics, he then suggested that she perform a sexual favor. She declined. He then stated, "If you show up at 11 you know what's expected." He continued: "So its your choice. Ok. I'll be there at 11. If you show up great.You know what you gptt. GoTta do [sic]. If not Good luck to you."
She asked if he was kidding.
"Nope. Not kidding."
Until the next morning, when he proclaimed it all a joke.
Shortly thereafter, he invited her to join him on an overnight trip. When she declined, he texted back, "That's strike 1 for you. 3 strikes and you are out." She resigned the next day.
If the spelling in the texts didn't tip you off, Mismas's defense was that he was an alcoholic, and was now seeking treatment. The panel and board accepted the diagnosis and treatment as a mitigating factor (along with his spotless record, numerous character witnesses, and more) when recommending a reprimand.
The Ohio Supreme Court, however, felt that a one-year suspension was warranted:
Having independently reviewed the record, however, we find that Mismas did not just send sexually explicit text messages to a law student he sought to employ--he abused the power and prestige of our profession to demand sexual favors from her as a condition of her employment.
Interestingly enough, Mismas received the same punishment as an attorney, with a prior misconduct record, who made unwanted advances towards his divorce client, including sending a picture of himself nude, in a state of sexual arousal.
How Bad is the Sexual Harassment Problem?
One particularly egregious fact noted by the court was that after Ms. C resigned, Mismas threatened to bad mouth her to her professors. It took a lot of guts to not stand up to that threat, but to also walk away from a paycheck in an economy where there are no paychecks.
A study in 2003 found that as few as 10 percent of women in the legal industry who were victims of sexual harassment reported it. We can only imagine it's even more difficult to do so now, when there aren't a lot of other jobs out there.
- Lake Cty. Bar Assn. v. Mismas (Ohio Supreme Court)
- Hidden Harassment (ABA Journal)
- Law Firm Man Sends Employee Illustrated, Laminated Erotic Poems (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)