Goldsboro attorney and former N.C. Superior Court judge Jerry Braswell has been suspended from the practice of law for having sex with a client.
Braswell denies the allegation saying that the woman attempted to coerce him into paying an approximately $10,000 judgement against her by saying they had a sexual relationship.
Rather than give in to what he said amounted to blackmail, Braswell said he decided to let the issue play out before the bar.
"It was her word against mine," he said. "She had no collaborating witnesses. "Although I am 65 years old and retiring by the end of the year, and I recognize that this false accusation will have no impact on me, I still chose to challenge it because it was untrue."
Braswell said he had not known the woman and had been asked by a nephew, who is an out-of-state attorney, to represent her. Braswell said he represented the woman free of charge as a favor to his nephew who was dating the woman at the time.
He said the woman alleged the sexual relationship after having only seen him twice.
The woman was being sued by an ex-boyfriend who alleged she had taken his furniture after they had broken up. The ex-boyfriend sued to get the furniture back and to get her name off the deed to the house they had shared.
She lost the case and was ordered to pay the ex-boyfriend for the furniture.
Braswell said he thinks the woman thought he and his nephew were wealthy because they are attorneys.
Braswell appeared before the Disciplinary Hearing Commission of the N.C. State Bar during hearings on three complaints on June 1-2 and July 17.
He was cited for violating the code of professional conduct on two of the three complaints.
The first was for having sexual relations with a then-current client, and the second for failing to appear at scheduled hearings for a second client and for failing to properly terminate his representation of the second client.
Braswell said the bar "threw" that complaint in.
Braswell said he represented the client in district court, but not superior court. He said he sent the client a letter saying he would withdraw from the case if the client did not pay him.
"I did not finish withdrawing from the case because it is not uncommon for clients upon receiving such a letter to come to the lawyer's office to pay the account," he said. "He never finished paying me."
The bar contends if Braswell was going to withdraw from the case, it should be signed off by a judge allowing him to withdraw. The complaint is that he did not finish the process, he said.
Braswell said the way he handled it is not uncommon among criminal lawyers.
According to the bar, allegations of engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice "were not proven by clear, cogent and convincing evidence."
The order of discipline was filed Aug. 7, suspending Braswell from the practice of law for five years and ordering him to surrender his law license and membership card to the N.C. State Bar within 30 days of the order.
He had 10 days from the day of the order to file an affidavit with the bar certifying he has complied with the wind down of his practice.
According to the order, the hearing panel considered all lesser sanctions including: censure, reprimand and admonition.
But the panel added that it "finds that discipline less than suspension would not adequately protect the public from Defendant's future misconduct because (i) of the gravity of potential significant harm to the legal profession, and (ii) any sanction less than suspension would fail to acknowledge the seriousness of the misconduct and would send the wrong message to attorneys and the public regarding the conduct expected of members of the bar of this state."
The panel said that Braswell caused harm to his client by engaging in sexual relations with her during the representation, resulting in the client having to spend $5,000 to obtain other counsel.
The panel said in its order that Braswell submitted false and/or misleading responses during discovery and provided false testimony at his deposition.
Braswell's testimony at the hearing was "generally not credible" and, in certain specific instances, was refuted by other objective evidence admitted at trial, according to the order, according to the order.
The panel said that the client was vulnerable in that she was seeking legal assistance in June 2015, to help her resolve legal issues that arose out of a domestic situation.
But rather than help her resolve those issues, Braswell engaged in sexual relations, according to the panel.
That relationship embroiled her in a domestic matter between Braswell and his wife, the panel said. The order includes a number of text messages between Braswell and the client.
The client was contacted by Braswell's wife about the relationship in April 2016.
The client wrote to Braswell "Hey, your wife called me. I told here [sic] I had the kids in the car, which I did. Guess you are going to have a (expletive) night, I am calling her back shortly. She has a lot of questions
"Just to let you know I am filing a complaint with the board. You are unethical!"
According to the order, Braswell sent the following text to his wife on April 10, 2016, "I will contact my client in writing when I get to the office tomorrow. Do not interfere with my legal business as this could have bar implications and I don't need you to tell me how to do my business."
In the order the hearing panel concluded that the following factors that warrant suspension or disbarment were present:
* Intent of Braswell to cause the resulting harm or potential harm.
* Intent of Braswell to commit acts where the harm or potential harm is foreseeable.
* Circumstances reflecting Braswell's lack of honesty, trustworthiness or integrity.
* Elevation of his own interest above that of the client.
* Negative impact of his actions on client's or public's perception of the profession.
* Negative impact of Braswell's actions on the administration of justice.
* Impairment of the client's ability to achieve the goals for the representation.
The panel added that it considered all of the factors and concluded that the following are applicable in the matter:
* Prior disciplinary offenses in North Carolina -- October 2014 stayed suspension and 2004 censure by the Supreme Court.
* Dishonest or selfish motive.
* A lack of good faith effort to rectify the consequences of misconduct, including failure to immediately withdraw from representation of the client.
* A lack of full and free disclosure to the hearing panel or cooperative attitude toward the proceedings.
* Submission of false statements or other deceptive practices during the disciplinary process including responses in the answer, discovery and testimony offered at trial.
* Refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of the conduct.
* Lack of remorse.
* Vulnerability of victim.
* 40 years of experience in the practice of law.