Can You Be Suspended from the Bar for Bigamy?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 28, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

While we might like to believe that our personal lives are separate from our professional lives, that's rarely the case.

When Tom Cruise started jumping on couches to celebrate his personal life, his movie career suffered. When General David Petraeus' affair with Paula Broadwell was exposed, he stepped down from his post as CIA Director.

Did either man's work actually suffer? No. But there were consequences nonetheless. Lawyers are subject to even stricter standards.

This week, a New York court suspended solo practitioner Joseph Rosenzweig for six months for entering into a bigamous marriage in Jamaica, Thomson Reuters News & Insight reports.

We're not talking about a modified Big Love situation. According to the opinion:

The underlying facts are undisputed. Respondent married Theresa Wong in 1985. In or about 1995 he entered into an amorous relationship with Radiah Givens. Although married to Wong, respondent traveled with Givens to Jamaica, falsely informed a Jamaican government official that he was a "bachelor," executed marriage documents indicating that he was then a bachelor, and participated in a ceremony by which he and Givens were "officially married" under Jamaican law. According to respondent, Givens understood that their purported marriage was not a legal union, and they had no plans to cohabit after the Jamaican ceremony.

So what's the big deal? Having an affair is shady, but we would have a serious lawyer shortage if every attorney who had an affair was suspended from practice. (Sidebar, unemployed lawyers: Perhaps this is the answer to the current supply and demand problem.)

A disciplinary committee recommended a public censure, but the court decided upon suspension because Rosenzweig made a "willful misrepresentation" to Jamaican government officials when he claimed to be a bachelor. According to the court, the severity of sanction can be just as severe for a misrepresentation of a "personal nature."

Affairs may be frowned upon, but lying to a government official to facilitate a bigamous marriage is cause for suspension.

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