(CN) - An attorney who had sex with the wife of a man he represented in a capital-murder case faces at least a year's suspension, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled.
James David Owen of Columbus admitted that he had an affair with the wife of his client, Robert Caulley, while defending Caulley on charges of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery.
The ruling notes that Caulley had apparently confessed to his mother-in-law in early 1997 that he killed his own parents three years earlier.
Since the 1994 murder had been deemed a robbery, Caulley's confession prompted the executor of his parents "sizeable" estate to threaten recouping Caulley's portion of the inheritance, according to the decision.
Caulley's mother-in-law related this to Owen, whom she asked to investigate a defense of false confession should the executor bring charges.
When Caulley was charged with murder, the judge designated Owen as counsel in that criminal case. Caulley's wife moved from Texas to Columbus that summer and started helping Owen work on the case.
About a week before Caulley's trial began in September 1997, the relationship between Owen and the defendant's wife turned sexual.
It continued through the next summer. Meanwhile Caulley was convicted of his father's voluntary manslaughter and his mother's noncapital murder.
The jury acquitted Caulley of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery, and he was sentenced to consecutive prison terms, totaling 25 to 40 years.
Though Owen told his family members about the affair in late 1998, Caulley found out years later while already divorced from the woman.
He did not realize that the affair had occurred before and during his trial until 2011.
Owen admitted to the affair as part of his cooperation with the Ohio Public Defender when it announced that Caulley would be requesting a new trial. Report of the affair to disciplinary counsel by Owen triggered a complaint against him.
At his disciplinary hearing, Owen said he had an alcohol problem and suffered from depression and attention deficit disorder. He said this combination led to his impaired judgment and the beginning of the affair.
Owen and disciplinary counsel agreed on a two-year suspension with one year stayed on the condition that Owen commits no further misconduct and fulfills a contract with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program.
The Ohio Supreme Court agreed to this arrangement, 6-1, on Oct. 22.
"We find that a lawyer's sexual relationship with the spouse of a client creates an inherent conflict of interest," the unsigned decision states. "This conflict of interest compromises the relationship of trust and confidence between the attorney and client."
Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor wrote in dissent that she would impose an indefinite suspension.
Ohio prison records show that Caulley was released on May 29, 2014. His maximum sentence did not expire until Dec. 12, 2021, the records state.
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