Ethics Quote of the Week: David Argenter, of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism

"Yes, she's my legal secretary. Yes, she's exactly what I advertised for. Why are you looking at me like that? What??"

“Often, issues of ethics and professionalism raise complicated questions, involve shades of grey, and require serious thought and contemplation to resolve.  Sometimes, however, all it takes to figure out whether a given action or decision is the right one is to ask: ‘Is this stupid?'”

David Argenter, attorney and member of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, commenting on the mind-boggling case of a lawyer recently suspended from the practice of law for one year for several ethics violations, including one that will live in legal ethics infamy.

Hold onto your hat.

The lawyer in question sought secretarial assistance for his law office on Craigslist.  Oddly, he posted his ad in the “Adult Gigs” section of the site, with the heading “Loop lawyers hiring secretary/legal assistant.” The ad continued…

“Loop law firm looking to hire am [sic] energetic woman for their open secretary/legal assistant position. Duties will include general secretarial work, some paralegal work and additional duties for two lawyers in the firm. No experience required, training will be provided. Generous annual salary and benefits will be provided, including medical, dental, life, disability, 401(k) etc.”

The ad also requested asked for “a few pictures along with a description of your physical features, including measurements.”

Hmmm!

When an applicant  responded with an e-mail inquiring about the “additional duties” referred to in the ad, the lawyer responded,

“As this is posted in the “adult gigs” section, in addition to the legal work, you would be required to have sexual interaction with me and my partner, sometimes together sometimes separate. This part of the job would require sexy dressing and flirtatious interaction with me and my partner, as well as sexual interaction. You will have to be comfortable doing this with us.”

I swear I’m not making this up. He continued, describing the interview process:

“…we’ve decided that as part of the interview process you’ll be required to perform for us sexually (I didn’t do this before with the other girls I hired, now I think I have to because they couldn’t handle it). Because that aspect is an integral part of the job, I think it’s necessary to see if you can do that, because it’ll predict future behavior of you being able to handle it when you have the job.”

That was enough; the applicant reported the lawyer to the bar disciplinary committee, and he was duly suspended. This was, after all, outrageously unprofessional conduct, slam-dunk sexual harassment, and a clear demonstration of the kind of character that calls into question a lawyer’s respect for the law, his profession, women, and the human race. It was also, as Argenter’s quote suggests, drop-dead stupid. Nonetheless, I take issue with his quote, which suggests that if depraved and unethical lawyers are smart enough to know when they are heading into an ethical mine field, that will be enough to keep them on the straight and narrow, and to make them trustworthy lawyers. That’s not true. A stupid unethical lawyer is less dangerous than a smart one, but they both share the quality of ethics stupidity, or the lack of functioning ethics alarms. A lawyer who sees nothing wrong with advertising for a sex worker who can do legal functions other than the fact the doing so will get him in trouble is not fit to practice, because sooner or later his ethical blindness will betray a client, the legal system, or the profession.

The remaining mystery is why the Illinois authorities thought that only a year’s suspension was sufficient punishment for a lawyer this ethically clueless. A year might give him time to become smart enough not to advertise for sex-toy clerical help on Craig’s list, but will it be enough time for such a lawyer to become trustworthy?

I don’t think so.

One thought on “Ethics Quote of the Week: David Argenter, of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism

  1. I’m glad you suggested we hold onto our hats. This story is stunning, not only for his complete disregard for the law, but because of his reply to the potential applicant. Is it arrogance I’m detecting? I don’t think it’s delusion.

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