Dan K. Purdy, an 86-year-old Missouri lawyer, has been indefinitely suspended for groping five clients and touching another client’s buttocks. The Missouri Supreme Court reached a 4-3 decision on March 21, imposing the suspension but not disbarment. A disciplinary panel had recommended disbarment, but most judges decided on an indefinite suspension with no option to apply for reinstatement for 12 months.
Judge Zel M. Fischer argued for disbarment, stating that Purdy’s conduct was “egregious and outrageous.” In Fischer’s dissent, he argued that the time for temporary suspension as a punishment for sexually assaulting or harassing a client had passed. Fischer also argued that Purdy’s age should not be a factor in determining appropriate discipline.
Video footage from September 2020 confirmed that Purdy made sexual advances toward four female clients in a jail interview room, including kissing and reaching underneath their jumpsuits. In March 2021, Purdy was caught on courtroom video touching a client’s buttocks, although the client did not think that the touching was inappropriate. A sixth client recorded a video in September 2021 that showed Purdy rubbing her breast while driving.
In his defense, Purdy claimed that his clients were “enticing” him and promised not to repeat similar acts. However, the disciplinary hearing panel found his claims disingenuous as he continued with his pattern of improper conduct after the ethics case was filed against him.
Purdy has a history of violating ethics rules, which resulted in several admonishments, one reprimand for violating ethics rules regarding communication, safeguarding property, diligence, and responsibility towards legal assistants. He also received a stayed suspension for notarizing documents without witnessing his client’s signature.
Despite Purdy’s full disclosure to the disciplinary board and submitting multiple letters attesting to his good character, the majority judge, George W. Draper III, found the suspension consistent with punishment for past sexual misconduct by lawyers. Purdy has already been on interim suspension for 15 months.
Purdy had argued that he did not require further discipline, or in the alternative, he should receive an indefinite suspension “with leave to apply for reinstatement after six months.” However, the court rejected his argument and ordered a three-year suspension.
Efforts to reach Purdy through a phone number found online proved futile, as the voicemail box was full. His lawyer, Daniel F. Church, did not respond immediately to an email and voicemail seeking comment.
Regardless of what happens next, this case serves as a reminder that even highly experienced attorneys must maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct and professionalism while representing their clients. It also shows that in cases involving sexual misconduct, appropriate punishment may be more severe than in cases of misconduct alone. For that reason, now more than ever, it is essential for legal professionals to be aware of the consequences when ethical and professional conduct boundaries are violated.
At least one thing is certain – this case will have a lasting impact on how lawyers interact with their clients and what constitutes appropriate conduct by attorneys in the future. With that in mind, all legal professionals must remain vigilant when upholding the highest standards of professional responsibility and ethical conduct. It will ensure a safe and productive work environment for everyone involved.
The Missouri Supreme Court’s decision also serves as a stark reminder that any form of sexual misconduct or harassment of clients or other parties may lead to severe disciplinary action, up to and including permanent disbarment from the legal profession. Therefore, all attorneys should take note of this case and use it as a reminder that any unprofessional or unethical conduct will not be tolerated. All legal professionals must remember their ethical obligations and the consequences of failing to uphold them. Doing so will help attorneys provide the best service possible to all their clients.