Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Attorney Disbarred for Having Sex With Minor

The Supreme Court of Ohio today permanently disbarred a northwest Ohio attorney who the Court found repeatedly had sex with a child.

The Court disbarred Amber R. Goodman of Elida, in Allen County. Goodman has been under an interim suspension since her 2022 felony conviction for unlawful sexual contact with a minor. Goodman served eight months of a 30-month prison sentence and is under five years of community control.

Goodman’s crime centers around her relationship with her boyfriend and his 13-year-old daughter. Goodman and the man were both convicted of crimes for coercing the teen into joining them in sexual activity. Goodman’s conviction was based on her own sexual acts with the teen, who Goodman told not to tell anyone about the episodes.

The Board of Professional Conduct recommended that the Court indefinitely suspend Goodman with no credit for the time served under the interim suspension. In general, an indefinitely suspended attorney can apply for reinstatement after serving two years. However, the Court determined that a more severe sanction was necessary.

Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Sharon L. Kennedy stated that while the board’s recommendation was based on the conviction for the lesser crime of unlawful sexual contact with a minor, the underlying behavior was “tantamount to rape.”

“For this reason, our precedent disbarring attorneys for rape and other forcible sex offenses provides the appropriate sanction in this case,” she wrote.

Justices Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, and Joseph T. Deters joined the chief justice’s opinion. Justice Melody Stewart concurred in judgment only. Justice Jennifer Brunner did not participate in the case.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Michael P. Donnelly wrote that “had the criminal justice system properly held Goodman to account for the criminal acts she committed,” the board could have recommended a more appropriate sanction. He stated that Goodman was allowed to plead to a charge that was factually distinct from the crime she committed. He reiterated his call for a statewide court rule change requiring that plea bargains maintain a factual basis with the conduct the accused actually committed.

Girl Reveals Abuse by Father and Lawyer
In 2019, a 13-year-old girl identified as “L.H.” revealed to a school counselor that her father had sexually assaulted her. The Fostoria Police Department began investigating the allegations, and L.H. told them that the sexual abuse began when she was 9 years old. L.H. also reported to the investigators that Goodman molested her. The teen stated that her father induced her to walk in on him and Goodman while they had sex, and he would alternate having sex with Goodman and the child. It was during those encounters that Goodman also engaged in sexual conduct with the girl.

In May 2022, Goodman pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual contact with a minor, which is a third-degree felony. The Seneca County Common Pleas Court sentenced her to 30 months in prison and five years of community control, and it ordered her to register as a Tier II sex offender. The court granted her judicial release after she served eight months in prison. As part of the judicial release, the court ordered Goodman to serve 120 days in the county jail, participate in counseling and substance abuse rehabilitation, undergo random drug and alcohol screenings, and abstain from using alcohol and illegal substances.

Shortly after the conviction, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Conduct, and the disciplinary counsel and Goodman jointly recommended that the Supreme Court indefinitely suspend her with no credit for the time served under her interim suspension.

Lawyer Detailed Encounters at Hearing
At her disciplinary hearing, Goodman admitted to the misconduct that led to her conviction. She asserted that she had been a victim of neglect and abuse and that her past left her susceptible to manipulation by L.H.’s father. Goodman stated that she had been married and divorced twice and that she was mentally abused by one of her ex-husbands and physically abused by both.

Goodman said she met L.H.’s father in 2018 and moved in with him soon after meeting him. She began engaging in sexual conduct with L.H. in the summer of 2018 and maintained a relationship with L.H.’s father for two years after L.H. reported the abuse.

Goodman testified that she could not remember how many times she engaged in sexual conduct with the girl, and she insisted that she told her boyfriend to stop the abuse of his daughter. She also claimed that she told L.H., “If you do not want this to happen, you need to tell me.” At the hearing, Goodman admitted that a 13-year-old child could not consent to sexual activity, and she stipulated that she told the victim not to tell anyone because it would impact her professionally.

The board found that Goodman committed an illegal act that reflects negatively on her honesty and trustworthiness and that she engaged in conduct that adversely reflects on her fitness to practice.

Supreme Court Considers Sanction
When recommending a sanction, the board points to the discipline imposed on attorneys who commit similar misconduct. The board recommended an indefinite suspension based on three other cases where lawyers were found to have engaged in unlawful sexual conduct with minors.

Chief Justice Kennedy noted that when the Court examines attorney misconduct that is also a criminal offense, it is not limited to considering only the offense that the lawyer was accused of committing but must also review the behavior that constituted the crime. She noted that the victim’s statements to police demonstrated her father compelled her to have sex with him and that Goodman participated in the repeated rape of the child.

The Court explained that Goodman could not have reasonably believed that her sexual conduct with a 13-year-old child was anything but forced on the child. It noted that Goodman knew that the child could not consent and that the child’s father was hurting her. 

“Yet rather than report this abuse to the police, Goodman urged L.H. not to tell anyone about it, because it could get Goodman in trouble and ruin her career,” the opinion stated.

Goodman admitted her conduct was wrong, but the Court stated that it was not convinced that she had fully accepted responsibility for her misconduct.

“At her disciplinary hearing, Goodman portrayed herself as the victim of manipulation and lies but she failed to explain how that could possibly cause her to molest a child,” the opinion stated.

In addition to disbarring Goodman, the Court required her to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.

Board Hindered by Plea Bargain, Concurrence Maintained
In his concurring opinion, Justice Donnelly noted that the board’s decision to suspend Goodman indefinitely was based on the board policy of making recommendations based on past discipline imposed on attorneys found to have committed similar misconduct. He wrote that the problem with the recommendation lies with the criminal prosecution where Goodman was allowed to accept a plea bargain for a felony that did not reflect the acts she committed.

The concurrence noted that the prosecutors had evidence available to charge Goodman with rape, a crime that carries an element of force or threat of force. But despite this evidence, Justice Donnelly wrote, Goodman was allowed to plead to the offense of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, which criminalizes sexual contact between a person 18 years of age or older and a person between the ages of 13 and 16 years old.  Under these facts, Justice Donnelly continued, a jury could not have reached this result because unlawful sexual conduct with a minor is not a legally recognized lesser included offense of rape. The criminal justice system failed to hold Goodman accountable by allowing her to plead guilty “to a crime distinguishable from the crime she committed,” the concurrence stated.

The concurrence stated that Goodman’s ability to plead guilty to a charge that bore little factual resemblance to the crime she committed could have been prevented by a rule proposed in 2016 that would require felony charges in plea bargains to have a factual basis in a defendant’s conduct.  But, Justice Donnelly noted, the court rejected adoption of that rule.

“As a result, Goodman managed to plead guilty to a crime that does not come close to accounting for the vile acts she committed. And her plea, in turn, hindered the board’s ability to properly assess the severity of her misconduct and to recommend the appropriate disciplinary action,” the concurrence stated.

2023-0740. Disciplinary Counsel v. Goodman, Slip Opinion No. 2024-Ohio-852.

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