An associate who was fired from Kirkland & Ellis in 2004, after admitting he attempted to arrange a meeting “to engage in an oral sexual act” with what he thought was a 13-year-old girl, has been suspended from practicing law in New York for three years.
In a rare 3-2 decision, a five-judge panel of the New York Appellate Division, 1st Department, agreed that Steven J. Lever “brought shame to himself and to this State’s Bar” by using the Internet “to prey on minors for purposes of sexual gratification.” They ruled the conduct required “a significant sanction.”
But without a clear New York precedent, the judges could not agree on the appropriate punishment.
The majority, looking at similar cases from other states, cited the “substantial and credible mitigation evidence” in confirming a hearing panel’s recommended three-year suspension.
From the beginning, respondent has admitted responsibility for his actions and has taken ‘uncommon’ efforts to rehabilitate himself. After his arrest, he voluntarily entered sex offender treatment and all evidence in the record supports the therapist’s opinions that such therapy appears to be working and that the likelihood of respondent repeating the misconduct was ‘low.’
In a vehement dissent, two justices argued for disbarment:
Because I believe that a convicted and registered sex offender has forfeited the privilege of admission to the bar and the elevated status of the officer of the court, I must respectfully take the unusual step in a disciplinary proceeding and dissent. I believe that any penalty short of disbarment would not comport with the standards to which a member of the bar should adhere. I do not believe that we can reconcile the status of registered sex offender with that of a member of the bar in good standing.
Lever, who was a patents & intellectual property associate at Kirkland & Ellis, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1999 and was admitted to the New York bar in 2000.
In July 2004, using his law firm computer, Lever logged onto a chat room for “older men and younger women.” He consequently exchanged sexual emails and phone calls with a “13-year-old female” who turned out to be a police officer. He attempted to meet the “girl” in October 2004.
In November 2005, Lever pleaded guilty to the single misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to six years’ probation and certified as a level-one sexual offender.