The North Carolina State Bar Disciplinary Commission recently disbarred an attorney who had been licensed to practice law in the state since 1997. In the Matter of David Shawn Clark, an attorney became romantically involved with a client in proceedings related to a domestic violence incident. The client’s estranged husband discovered the affair and threatened to sue the lawyer in tort for ‘alienation of affection’, which is a common law claim that a spouse may bring against a third party, whom they hold responsible for the failure of their marriage.
In response to the threat of this lawsuit, the attorney attempted to silence those who had specific knowledge of the affair, fearing that its exposure would ruin his family relationships and his law practice. He threatened to report damaging information about the client, which he had learned as a result of the attorney-client relationship, to the Department of Social Services in order to interfere with her custody over her children. Next, he berated his legal secretary and threatened her with physical harm if she did not protect his secret.