Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Coshocton Lawyer Suspended for Lying About Sexual Relationship with Client

The Supreme Court of Ohio today suspended a Coshocton lawyer for two years, with the second year stayed, for having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a client, then lying about it to disciplinary authorities.

In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court found Kevin Cox violated several rules governing the professional conduct of lawyers when he had sex with a woman he was representing during her divorce. The Court rejected Cox’s argument that he deserves only a public reprimand coupled with additional continuing legal education requirements for sending inappropriate text messages to his client.

Throughout the disciplinary proceedings, Cox denied having a physical sexual relationship with the woman. The Court found “the evidence clearly and convincingly demonstrates” the attorney had a sexual relationship with his client, sent her sexually charged text messages and emails, and lied about both aspects of the relationship.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, Melody Stewart, and Jennifer Brunner joined the opinion. Justice Sharon L. Kennedy concurred in judgment only.

Law Firm Discovers Sexual Messages
Cox worked for McCleery Law Firm in 2017. He was assigned to represent a client identified in court records as “V.W.” and was told to treat her with care because she was the firm’s most important client, given the fees her case would generate.

Cox represented V.W. until February 2019, when he withdrew from the case. The McCleery Firm represented V.W. throughout her divorce, which became final in January 2020. A few months before her divorce was final, V.W. disclosed to the firm that she had engaged in a sexual relationship with Cox, stating they began having sex within three weeks of meeting in 2017.

During her divorce proceedings, V.W. denied having an “affair” with Cox. After the proceedings, Gregory McCleery, the principal of the McCleery law firm, asked V.W. for evidence regarding the relationship with Cox. She provided copies of several text messages and emails she exchanged with Cox.

McCleery first confronted Cox in February 2020 by showing him some of the messages V.W. provided. Cox denied he had a sexual relationship with the client. McCleery filed a grievance with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which began an investigation.

Lawyer Denied Allegations
In his initial responses to the disciplinary counsel, Cox denied any sexual relationship. During a November 2020 deposition, Cox testified that he did not recall sending text messages to V.W. and, when asked if it was “possible he sent them,” he answered, “No.” Cox later reported to the disciplinary counsel that he believed the text messages came from his phone.

Cox also denied the email address used to send messages to V.W. belonged to him and denied using the account to exchange emails with her. The disciplinary counsel obtained records from Google linking Cox to the account, and Cox later testified it was “possible” he sent the email messages to V.W.

Conflicting Accounts Presented at Hearing
Based on McCleery’s grievance, the disciplinary counsel filed a complaint against Cox with the Board of Professional Conduct. A three-member board panel conducted a hearing, where V.W. and Cox presented conflicting accounts of their relationship.

V.W. testified that she and Cox frequently had sex, mostly at her home beginning in 2017. She testified the relationship deteriorated in February 2019 when she realized that Cox was still living with his wife, even though it was her understanding he was separated.

Cox had challenged the truthfulness of V.W.’s claims of a sexual relationship, noting that during the divorce proceedings she denied having an affair with him.

V.W. told the disciplinary panel that, during her divorce, she did not equate having sex with Cox with an affair because she was separated from her husband. She testified had she been asked during the divorce proceedings if she had sex with Cox, she would have answered, “Yes.”

The hearing panel concluded that V.W.’s account of the relationship was more credible than Cox’s. The board agreed with the panel’s conclusion that Cox violated several ethical rules, including one that prohibits engaging in sexual activity with a client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed prior to the client-lawyer relationship. The board also found Cox made false statements in connection with a disciplinary matter and engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

Supreme Court Considered Attorney’s Objections
Cox objected to the board’s recommendation that he be suspended for two years from the practice of law, with the second year stayed with conditions. The objections triggered oral arguments before the Supreme Court.

The Court’s opinion noted that when the matter reached the panel hearing, Cox took some responsibility for sending the sexually charged text messages and emails, while still denying any physical relationship.

The opinion stated that his objections contradict his own statements. Cox denied having a physical relationship with V.W. and “inexplicably claimed” that any sexual activity between the two was consensual.

“In short, Cox has not cooperated in this disciplinary proceeding, has not accepted responsibility for his misconduct, and has not expressed genuine remorse for his actions,” the opinion stated.

The second year of Cox’s suspension was stayed on the condition that he not commit further misconduct and complete six hours of continuing legal education focused on appropriate behaviors and boundaries with clients. He also must pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.

2021-0975. Disciplinary Counsel v. Cox, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-784x.

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