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Prosecutor's Affair With FBI Agent Ends in Year Suspension

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on October 24, 2017 3:57 PM

When a lawyer is sexually attracted to a client, it's time for an ethics check.

Rule of Professional Conduct 1.8(j) says a "lawyer shall not have sexual relations with a client" unless the intimate relationship started before the attorney-client relationship. So yeah, check the date on that retainer agreement.

Seriously, it is so lawyer-like to look for exceptions to the rules. That's what got one prosecutor into trouble.

Sexual Relations

Mignonne Griffing was happily prosecuting white collar criminals for the U.S. Attorney's office in Louisiana when it happened to her. But when she met a special FBI agent working on a case, she should have checked her rules of professional responsibility.

The agent was the lead investigator on many of the cases she would prosecute. At times, he was the principal witness in grand jury proceedings.

It was working, until the agent and the prosecutor started getting busy after work. They knew it was wrong, especially for the agent's wife, so they kept the relationship a secret.

At this point in the story, you might be saying to yourself, "Wait, the lawyer's not having a sexual relationship with a client." Ah, but you must double-check your ethics.

Conflict of Interest

Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7 says a "lawyer shall not represent a client" if the representation involves a concurrent "conflict of interest." Also, prosecutors are obliged to disclose information that could negate or mitigate an offense under Rule 3.8(d)

Griffing violated those rules, plus some more for lying about the affair, the Louisiana Supreme Court said in reviewing a disciplinary case against her. The disciplinary office recommended a six-month suspension, but the court made it a year.

The issue was more than an ethical or moral problem. The affair came out during the trial of three defendants, which forced the government to retry the case.

"Her actions are the type that cause unfavorable opinion by the public towards the legal system and especially, the United States Attorney's Office in the Western District of Louisiana," the court said.

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