As we reported yesterday, the comely young Reema Bajaj, a 26-year-old Illinois solo practitioner charged with prostitution, has pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor prostitution count. I previously expressed my favorable opinions of Bajaj and my belief in her innocence (despite the existence of nude pictures of her floating around the internet). Alas, it seems that my confidence may have been misplaced.
As a matter of legal ethics and attorney discipline, what will happen to Bajaj’s law license in the wake of her conviction for prostitution? As a matter of human interest, how did a promising young lawyer wind up in such a compromising situation?
We have some answers. A law professor who teaches ethics addresses the first question, and a friend of Reema speaks to the second….
As we mentioned yesterday, Bajaj pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor and received a modest sentence. She was sentenced to 24 months of supervision, a fine of $2,500, 50 hours of community service, and a required psychiatric evaluation.
But what about her ability to practice law in Illinois? Will that be affected by her conviction?
We reached out to Michael S. Frisch, ethics counsel to the Georgetown University Law Center and an editor of the Legal Profession Blog. Here’s what Professor Frisch had to say about Reema Bajaj’s case:
The pertinent rule in Illinois is Rule 8.4 (b), which provides that it is professional misconduct for an attorney to “commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.”
The focus of the Illinois proceedings flowing from the conviction will be on this rule.
The commentary to the ABA Model Rule states that the traditional concept of “moral turpitude… can be construed to include offenses concerning some matters of personal morality, such as adultery and comparable offenses, that have no specific connection to fitness for the practice of law.” The implication of the comment (I did not check to see if Illinois has adopted this language) is that matters of personal morality do not violate the rule.
Any disciplinary action resulting from the conviction will consider the facts and circumstances surrounding the criminal conduct. I suspect that, even if a violation is found, it will not and should not result in substantial discipline.
Speaking for myself, I hope that Bajaj does not receive substantial discipline. She pleaded guilty to a mere misdemeanor, not a felony. The crime in question, prostitution, does not go to her “honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer.” And there’s a good argument that the crime in question shouldn’t even be a crime. Almost 80 percent of Above the Law readers believe that prostitution should be legalized in the United States.
(In fact, as a commenter on our prior post suggested, her experience as a prostitute could actually be a plus for her legal career: “Let’s see. She charged a flat fee for services. Or perhaps it was a contingency fee based on success. The fee was agreed to up front before any services were provided. She was working in a profession that respects client confidentiality above all others.”)
So here’s to hoping that Reema Bajaj gets off when it comes to any possible disciplinary proceedings. We will, of course, let you know if the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission takes any action with respect to Bajaj.
This takes us to the next question: what led Reema Bajaj into a life of prostitution? A friend shares some insights with us, raising issues that the psychologist who will be examining Bajaj might want to explore with her….