COLUMBUS -- According to the Ohio Supreme Court, Willoughby attorney John D. Mismas received a one-year suspension, with six months stayed on conditions, for demanding sexual favors via text message from a law student he sought to –- and ultimately did –- employ.
The Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline had recommended that Mismas be publicly reprimanded for sending inappropriate, sexually explicit text messages to the law student.
But having independently reviewed the record, the Supreme Court found "that Mismas did not just send sexually explicit text messages to a law student he sought to employ –- he abused the power and prestige of our profession to demand sexual favors from her as a condition of employment," the court's per curiam opinion states.
The law clerk quit 12 days after she was hired.
The court found that Mismas engaged in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law in violation of Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(h). The court, therefore, concluded that a harsher sentence than the public reprimand recommended by a hearing panel and the full board was "necessary to protect the public from future misconduct," according to the opinion.
"Unwelcome sexual advances are unacceptable in the context of any employment, but they are particularly egregious when they are made by attorneys with the power to hire, supervise, and fire the recipient of those advances," according to the opinion.
"Here Mismas not only suggested that Ms. C perform sexual favors for him, but he also indicated that her continued employment depended on her compliance with his demands and repeatedly insisted that he was not joking. And even after being rebuffed, he continued to exert his leverage over Ms. C by pressuring her to travel out of state – and away from her support system – with him. When an attorney engages in sexually inappropriate conduct of this nature, it causes harm not only to the individual to whom the conduct is directed but also to the dignity and reputation of the professional as a whole."
The court also rejected one of the mitigating factors used to determine his recommended sanction: the notion that Mismas had made a timely good-faith effort to rectify the consequences of his misconduct.
According to the opinion, … "Ms. C testified that when she resigned her employment, Mismas became hostile, put her down for being naïve, and threatened to contact her professors to tell them what a stupid decision she had made."
The court found that: "His brief apology to her at the panel hearing and his efforts to have her testimony placed under seal to protect her from future harm, although appropriate, do little to meliorate Ms. C's anxiety, embarrassment, frustration, disappointment, and fear of harm to her professional reputation."
The court also noted the importance of legal clerkships for law students just starting out in the profession and how it expects attorneys to conduct themselves "with a level of dignity and decorum befitting these professional relationships."