[by Susan Ashline]
A friend questioned the sex abuse allegations against Donald Trump. “Why would women wait until now to come forward?”
I know why.
I noticed Lawrence Baker’s name on the Attorney Grievance Committee website when I was doing research for a book I was writing. The committee is charged with fielding complaints of lawyer misconduct.
Baker had been my attorney when I went through Family Court a decade ago. I fired him. He’d been hitting on me relentlessly. I didn’t tell the judge that was the reason (and it wasn’t the only reason). I kept my mouth shut, because no one would believe me. I even questioned myself: What if he wasn’t hitting on me? I’d embarrass myself if I was wrong. I would come across as vain.
Little did I know, I wasn’t the only one.
The committee had suspended Baker from practicing law for two years, beginning in 2012. I fished around and found the report:
In 2010, Baker and opposing counsel were in a pretrial conference in judge’s chambers when the judge left the room. Baker began making sexual comments to the female lawyer, and then touched her on the shoulder. He called it a “love tap” and said the comments were a “bad joke.” But the Referee hearing the complaint stated Baker’s excuses were “disingenuous and calculating.”
It gets worse — unbelievably worse.
The Referee then determined Baker “exposed his genitals” to the lawyer, kissed her neck and shoved both is hands inside her blouse and bra, and fondled her breasts. He chased it down with more sexual comments “which included crude sexual references to opposing counsel’s anatomy,” the report states.
How did it get that far? Did she, at first, question whether it was actually happening? Would she be embarrassed if she was wrong, and come across as vain? Was she hoping he would stop? Was she thinking it would be her word against his? Would she think no one would believe her?
Despite already validating previous complaints against Baker, the committee did not disbar him, but handed out a limited suspension.
In summary, as though justifying a two-year suspension as harsh, the Grievance Committee enumerated their reasons. One — they’d issued Baker a letter of caution in the past for engaging in inappropriate conduct directed toward a client.
Two — the committee gave Baker a “you’ve been a bad boy” letter another time for falsely notarizing his client’s signature when he had never even met with the client (is that not a criminal act?). Bakers “client” complained that not only did he not sign the document, but he had no knowledge of the proceeding.
Baker is back in business, continuing to represent the most vulnerable of women — those going through Family Court. And the unnamed female attorney (his victim) is forced to work with a person whose actions, as outlined in the report, read like a sexual predator.
And the Grievance Committee did nothing to notify the public. Sure, you can find the decisions on their convoluted website if you go hunting for it, clicking around a maze of links, but most people are unaware of the committee and its website.
The Grievance Committee in the Rochester area is led by Greg Huether, a former Monroe County District Attorney with an abysmal record in successfully handling attorney complaints. His committee is chaired by lawyers. It’s lawyers policing lawyers. And in the vast majority of cases, the committee sends citizen complaints of attorney misconduct into the proverbial trash.
The Annual Report for Huether’s district is disgracefully bad. In 2015 (latest stats), the committee handled 1,973 complaints. Of those, 256 lawyers were sent private/confidential “you’ve been naughty” letters, 157 were were referred to the Appellate Division for a disciplinary hearing. The rest — 1,816 — were dumped.
Of course, the Baker case involved another lawyer as a complainant. When Baker’s client complained, the only sanction was a letter telling Baker, Don’t do that again. But he did. And much worse.
And instead of removing him so he can’t ever do it again, he’s back in business. Though the lawyers making up the Grievance Committee could have — should have — made the public aware of what happened, they didn’t tattle on their own kind.
A waste of money, lip service, a complete failure — I would call the Attorney Grievance Committee a joke… except there is nothing funny about this.