Opinion – this article appeared in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin on Tuesday August 13, 2013.
By Edward X. Clinton, Jr.
The ARDC has charged a 2007 Northern Illinois graduate, Reema Bajaj, for her role in criminal conduct, namely pleading guilty to two misdemeanor counts of prostitution, lying to the ARDC and failing to answer some questions accurately in her application to be a member of the Illinois bar. According to the ARDC complaint, which can be found on its website, Ms. Bajaj engaged in sex acts for money. In 2011, she was charged with prostitution by the States Attorney of DeKalb County. The case has received extensive coverage from the website abovethelaw.com and other media outlets. I have never met Bajaj and know of this case only through media reports.
This week the ARDC announced that Bajaj and the ARDC had agreed to a three-year suspension of her law license. I believe the proposed penalty is grossly excessive, when you consider the wrongful conduct involved and the penalties imposed on lawyers who have caused actual harm to clients.
First, the case was overcharged. In addition to charging Bajaj with (a) misdemeanor prostitution and (b) lying about it to the ARDC; (c) the ARDC also charged Bajaj with failing to reveal on her bar application that she used an alias on her adultfriendfinder.com profile. If this is taken literally, it means that every young lawyer who uses an online dating service, must reveal any alias used on that website in the bar application. The relevant portion of the complaint is shown below:
“26. Respondent’s answers to the questions, “Have you ever been known by any other first, middle or last name?” were false, because Respondent used the name “Nikita” during the period of at least 2005 and until 2011.
27. Respondent knew her answers to the questions, “Have you ever been known by any other first, middle or last name?” were false.
28. Respondent’s responses to questions 2A and 8A, as set forth above, contained material omissions which were intended to deceive the Board of Admissions to the Bar.”
This means that any young adult on any dating site better disclose that information to the ARDC in her bar application or risk disbarment. The action by the ARDC threatens legitimate privacy interests of young lawyers. Why should someone have to disclose to the ARDC that he used Match.com or some other website?
Second, the proposed penalty, a three-year suspension, is grossly excessive. Bajaj has already pleaded guilty and has been humiliated in the press. Her name will forever be associated with this activity. She has suffered a great deal already.
The ARDC has long stated that the purpose of the attorney disciplinary system is not to punish the attorney for his or her misconduct, but “to protect the public, maintain the integrity of the legal profession, and protect the administration of justice from reproach.” In re Winthrop, 219 Ill. 2d 526, 559, 848 N.E.2d 961(2006). The main focus of the case, engaging in sex acts for money ($100 or $200 at a time), did not cause any harm to the legal profession or any client. There were no victims. There may well have been extenuating circumstances in this case, such as dire financial straits and overreaching by the male clients.
The ARDC appears to view the male customers as the “victims” of Ms. Bajaj. Viewing men who purchased sex acts from a young woman as “victims” in need of the protection of the ARDC is outrageous. Of course, the men were never prosecuted for their own criminal acts, because, in America we never prosecute men for soliciting prostitutes. We only prosecute the women who fall into this life. While the men walked away and resumed their lives, Bajaj faces public scorn, ridicule and a three-year suspension of her professional license. This convinces me that the ARDC is viewing this case through the mindset of America in about 1950, and it believes that men who seek out sex on the internet are “victims” who need to be “protected” from people like Reema Bajaj.
I agree that a suspension is appropriate for Ms. Bajaj’s lies to the ARDC. The ARDC has a right to ask questions and to demand truthful answers. An appropriate suspension would be about one year.
The punishment, a three-year suspension, is grossly excessive when you consider that lawyers who steal from clients, lie to judges or alter court orders rarely receive suspensions of that length. Bajaj is receiving more punishment than most lawyers who caused enormous financial harm to clients, even though her actions did not cause any harm to any client. Indeed, last year the Review Board dismissed all charges against a lawyer who “borrowed money” from a family trust, but later repaid the money.
Third, anyone who reads the newspaper cannot help but notice that Eliot Spitzer is running for Comptroller of the City of New York. Spitzer, who is a graduate of Harvard Law School, resigned as Governor of New York when it came out that he was a client of a prostitution ring. Of course, Spitzer was never prosecuted for his conduct and the New York bar never filed any charges against him because men are never prosecuted or disciplined for prostitution.
Reema Bajaj is a young woman who made some serious mistakes, but she is being treated far worse than lawyers who stole from clients, lied to clients and “borrowed” money from estates and trusts. The punishment is far too harsh given the actual conduct. Worse still, Bajaj will be serving her suspension while Eliot Spitzer is contemplating another run for higher office.
It makes me sick to think of it.