RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia’s Supreme Court weighed in this month on the contentious case of a lawyer disciplined for an affair with a client — one that mixed conservative politics, bondage and drug addiction.
Joseph Taylor Brown, an attorney practicing in Fredericksburg, will have to perform 250 hours of community service and have a public reprimand added to his record as a lawyer after he carried on an affair with a client he represented in a divorce proceeding.
The Former Mrs. C
Brown met the woman he would become entangled with, who was identified only as C.C. in court documents, when her then-husband, M.C., took out a restraining order against her and filed charges of assault.
C.C., who had been admitted to a string of rehab facilities, then faced allegations of infidelity from M.C., a divorce petition and a petition for full custody of their two children.
In August 2017, C.C. retained Brown to represent her in all of those cases.
Over the next three years, acting as C.C.’s lawyer, Brown had access to her personal medical records and interviewed her alleged former lovers, who testified that C.C. had frequently abused drugs and alcohol while conducting her affairs.
Though C.C. was convicted of battery, she and M.C. temporarily reconciled in late 2017, and Brown’s contact and legal activity on C.C.’s behalf slowed.
But it picked up again in May 2020, when C.C. messaged Brown and told him that she was “getting divorced for real this time.” By that point, C.C. had completed her rehab and was apparently sober, though her recovery was rocky.
Taking a Turn
Things took a turn after Brown messaged C.C. and told her that he though she was a “right wing nut job like [I am].”
C.C. replied that she was more of a libertarian, and Brown responded that he “might help [her] see the error of [her] ways though [smiling emoji].”
“I’d love to hear about my errors,” she responded.
“And some reconditioning?” Brown asked.
They subsequently continued to discuss legal strategy and potential evidence of physical abuse by M.C. that could be used in court.
Court documents also contained samples of flirtatious conversations between Brown and C.C., but noted that they were limited because many of their exchanges were “extensive, graphic and explicit.”
“You told me you straight up wanted to f**k within like 4 minutes after we sat down,” Brown wrote in one text. “It made my day. And I was thinking the same but I didn’t let on. Trying to be professional and hold it together and all.”
Then, Brown and C.C. discussed a plan to meet up at a hotel room, and Brown expressed his desire to tie C.C. up. Brown also requested that C.C., who was then in recovery, purchase “Molly” — a street name for MDMA — so they could have sex while high.
Brown: Can you get it?
C.C.: Yes. Im on probabtion[sic] though. I was high all last summer on Molly, I was a skeleton.
Brown: oh yeah don’t f**k with probation
C.C.: Have u ever had sex on stuff like that
On May 12 they met at a Fredericksburg hotel — but unbeknownst to them, an employee at the hotel was friends with M.C., and alerted him that C.C. was carrying on an affair there.
M.C. sent a private investigator to the hotel, who confirmed that Brown was staying at the hotel and got video of C.C. leaving the hotel that evening.
C.C. was also arrested that evening on a DWI, and called M.C. when she was released from jail, at which point he said she had “rope or fabric burns on her wrists.”
M.C. confronted Brown that night over email, demanding that he withdraw from the case, which he promptly did.
M.C. and C.C. were divorced that September after C.C. was forced to represent herself.
Meanwhile, M.C. filed a complaint against Brown before the state bar — the case that would eventually make its way to the Virginia Supreme Court.
In essence, the bar found that Brown had worked against his client’s interest by carrying on an affair with her, because it gave M.C. an advantage over her in court. That’s because in divorce proceedings, evidence of infidelity can be used to assign fault — and it’s also still a misdemeanor under Virginia law.
Brown, according to court documents, admitted he carried on an affair with C.C., but denied that he plied her with drugs and alcohol.
While a circuit court found that Brown was at fault for having “created a new or additional ground for divorce” for C.C., he appealed.
In oral arguments before the Virginia Supreme Court, his attorney tried to argue that because Brown promptly withdrew as counsel as soon as the ethical violation “arose,” the ethical violation was “cured.”
“Arose is an interesting passive verb given the facts here,” Justice Russell said. “He created the situation, it didn’t arise.”
They ultimately upheld the lower court’s decision, affirming Brown’s punishment: 250 hours of community service and a public reprimand.