TN Supreme Court ups penalty for lawyer in sex scandal

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Supreme Court says a lawyer who was embroiled in a sex-scandal with a drug-addicted client deserves more punishment than a board’s recommended 30-day suspension of his law license.

The state’s highest court on Thursday said Knoxville attorney Robert Vogel should have his law license suspended for a year.

Vogel said he wasn’t aware of the court’s decision but was shocked after hearing about it. He said he admitted to having a consensual sexual relationship with a client and had done everything disciplinary authorities had asked him to do.

The court, however, found that Vogel failed to safeguard the trust of a vulnerable client, and he pressured the woman and exploited his role as an attorney while she faced serious federal criminal charges.

Note: News release below

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts
Nashville, Tenn. – The Supreme Court has decided to increase the punishment recommended by a hearing panel to discipline an attorney for sexual misconduct involving a client that he was appointed to represent in a criminal matter and for revealing confidential information of another client to a judge in a different matter.

Robert Vogel, a Knoxville attorney, received a one-year suspension of his law license from a hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility, which oversees attorney discipline. Although the panel imposed the punishment along with several conditions, it agreed that only 30 days was to be served on active suspension, with the remainder to be served on probation. In reaching its decision only to impose 30 days of active suspension, the hearing panel relied upon a number of remedial actions Mr. Vogel undertook in response to his misconduct.

The Supreme Court found the proposed punishment inadequate and instead proposed the punishment be increased. The Court reviewed the case to determine whether the punishment imposed was uniform with prior disciplinary decisions and appropriate under the circumstances of this case. As part of its duty to regulate the practice of law in Tennessee, the Supreme Court bears “the ultimate responsibility for enforcing the rules governing the legal profession.”

While recognizing the same remedial actions noted by the hearing panel, the Court placed less emphasis on those mitigating factors. Instead, the Court focused more heavily on the fact that Mr. Vogel “failed to safeguard the trust of a vulnerable client and exploited his … role” as her attorney, particularly in light of the fact that the client faced serious federal criminal charges. The client was a young woman who continued to use drugs during Mr. Vogel’s representation of her, including during the time period of the multiple sexual encounters. The Court specifically noted that Mr. Vogel pressured the young woman to continue the sexual relationship even after she requested that it stop, and she reluctantly complied. The Court concluded that Mr. Vogel’s conduct represents “a serious violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct and warrants a one-year active suspension.”