Aliano v. Zelotes
Rule 1.7(a) provides that generally a lawyer shall not represent a client, if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. Allegedly, the complainant, Michael Aliano, and his wife, Terry, socialized with the respondent attorney, Zenas Zelotes, in March 2010. Terry Aliano had filed for a divorce, and she and Michael were attempting to reconcile. The respondent attorney began to advise Terry about her divorce, and they allegedly became friends who would hug, hold hands and kiss. In September 2010, the respondent filed his appearance in the divorce action, in lieu of Terry's attorney. In November and December 2010, Michael Aliano returned to his home and discovered Terry and the respondent drinking wine, listening to music and, at times, discussing legal matters. In January 2011, Superior Court Judge Kenneth Shluger granted a motion to disqualify the respondent from representing Terry in the divorce. Michael Aliano filed a grievance against Zelotes. Zelotes claimed that his role as a friend and date was kept separate from his role as a legal advisor. He also argued a client with whom he had a romantic relationship was fortunate, because he would work especially hard on her behalf. The Statewide Grievance Committee was not persuaded, by clear and convincing evidence, that the respondent engaged in sexual relations with a client, in violation of Rule 1.8(j) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Statewide Grievance Committee found, by clear and convincing evidence, that the respondent attorney violated Rule 1.7(a)(2), because his romantic interest restricted his ability to provide independent judgment and legal advice. The Statewide Grievance Committee expressed concern whether the respondent would continue to work for a client with whom he had a romantic interest, if that interest waned. The respondent also violated Rule 8.4(4), because he engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. The respondent's conduct when he visited the Aliano home, wrote the committee was "needless, provocative and inflammatory." The respondent failed to recognize the inappropriate and serious nature of his conduct, and the Statewide Grievance Committee ordered his presentment to Superior Court for discipline.