Full disclosure: I belong to the South Park school of thought, which says that claiming you can speak to dead people makes you a candidate for Biggest Douche in the Universe. Even my priest, who believes that the will of an omniscient and all-powerful being can be easily flummoxed by a thin film of latex, doesn’t believe that he has a direct line of communication with the dead.
One would think that telling a client you are “channeling” his dead wife would violate multiple rules of legal ethics. But not so in Arizona. Nope, in Arizona you can get away with this, reports the ABA Journal:
[Lawyer Charna Johnson] began representing the client during his divorce proceedings in 1999. The client’s wife committed suicide the following year, and Johnson later co-represented him in probate proceedings.
Johnson and the client both testified that they genuinely believed the client’s wife was within Johnson. Two witnesses agreed. The client felt his wife had come back to heal some of the damage from her prescription drug use.
Yeah, that’s perfectly cool in ‘Zona. Remember, this is the state where Bryan Cave lawyers conducted an exorcism. Obviously they’re down with the supernatural in Arizona, so long as the spirits are American-born.
But still, having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a client is a no-no. Luckily for Charna Johnson, the client’s dead wife apparently no longer wanted to have sex with the client. Whew. Johnson really dodged a bullet there…
The Arizona bar looked into two ethics issues with Johnson: (1) did she have a sexual relationship with the client, Chad Lakridis, and (2) did she lie when asked if she ever told Lakridis she “channeled” his dead wife.
On the first point, the Arizona hearing officer couldn’t find any direct evidence of an inappropriate relationship. Fair enough. But whatever was going on between Lakridis and Johnson was shady as hell. Consider these facts from the hearing officer’s report:
* Johnson represented Lakridis in his divorce from his then-alive wife. Lakridis met Johnson while teaching her ballroom dancing. (Circumstantial shadiness.)
* Lakridis’s wife killed herself. (Non-probative shadiness.)
* With the divorce proceedings now concluded, Johnson accompanied Lakridis to the funeral home to help Lakridis with the arrangements. It was there that she first became able to channel Lakridis’s wife. (You’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me shadiness.)
* Johnson continued to represent Lakridis in various estate matters, but in personal communications and emails would refer to herself in the first person as Lakridis’s wife, Jan, or use the pronoun “we” when telling Lakridis what to do. (Just get a room already shadiness.)
* Johnson claims that all references to sex in these communications and emails were from Lakridis’s wife. (Glad to see that, in death, my wife is finally on board with my “open marriage” plan shadiness.)
But hey, the hearing officer couldn’t pin any actual sex on the couple (or would it have been a threesome?), so that issue is closed.
Still, Johnson isn’t walking away unscathed. The hearing officer recommended a six-month suspension for Johnson, because she got a little too cute when directly asked about all of this channeling business:
[T]he hearing officer dismissed Johnson’s testimony that she was confused by questions about channeling in the previous disciplinary hearing. Johnson said she was possessed by the woman’s spirit, and she was not technically channeling. “To pretend that she did not understand the common vernacular of what channeling is,” the report said, “cannot be believed.”
You got that? Arizona authorities will let you tell your clients that you are communicating their dead relatives, but they will not allow you to make subtle distinctions between being “possessed” or merely “channeling” your client’s deceased loved ones.
Instead of asking her if she was channeling, the ethics committee should have asked Johnson if she was “lying her ass off,” and punished her severely if she answered anything other than “yes sir.”
Earlier: An Exorcism at Bryan Cave?