A Mesa attorney who fathered the child of a client has been suspended for two years, according to the State Bar of Arizona.
Bar officials last week announced that the presiding disciplinary judge of the Supreme Court of Arizona – the office responsible for attorney discipline proceedings – agreed to reprimand Kent Nicholas after he admitted to “knowingly” committing malpractice.
Nicholas was accused of a conflict of interest for having a sexual relationship with his client, as well as unprofessional conduct and refusal to cooperate with the Bar.
A formal complaint was filed against the attorney in 2018, and on March 13, the disciplinary judge accepted a consent agreement between the Arizona Bar Association and Nicholas outlining the terms of his suspension, banning him from any type of legal practice.
“It takes a lot for a member to get suspended. We try our best to make sure that we can provide them with the resources to stay on top of their practice,” said Bar spokesman Alberto Rodriguez. “Obviously, this was something that is frowned upon.”
Nicholas, who has been practicing law in Arizona for over 20 years, represented the client in 2014 on charges of identity theft, shoplifting and probation violation.
Court documents state that Nicholas, who was married at the time, began his sexual relationship with his client after he became her lawyer.
She gave birth to a child in 2015, though Nicholas denied it was his and “avoided his parental responsibilities with a will,” according to public records. In 2017, DNA evidence confirmed he was the father.
The State Bar, a nonprofit organization that operates under the supervision of the Arizona Supreme Court, began investigating Nicholas in September 2017.
The attorney failed to provide important text messages – going so far as to destroy multiple exchanges – that proved his relationship with the client
“His intentions could be up to speculation, but he didn’t furnish them,” said Rodriguez.
Nicholas was already on probation with the Bar’s Member Assistance Program for slapping an incarcerated client two years earlier.
Previous court documents claim Nicholas used a stack of papers to slap Michael Moore across the face while he was handcuffed to a table at the Durango Jail in Phoenix in 2016.
Although no mitigating circumstances that would weigh in Nicholas’ favor were involved in his most recent incident, the disciplinary judge believed suspension was an appropriate punishment for the attorney’s actions – as opposed to disbarment.
Rodriguez said situations calling for disbarment vary on a case-by-case basis.
“For disbarment, you have to really be doing a lot of bad things,” he said. “It all depends on the background information. There are so many different elements, it’s up to the investigation findings. It really has to be severe.”
However, the court did reflect on Nicholas’ character in its decision accepting the consent agreement, stating, “It is exceedingly serious when an attorney is so lacking in self-control that he has no ability even when in counseling … His driving desire and lack of control is strong evidence of his complete absence of professionalism.”
On top of Nicholas’ two-year suspension, which goes into effect in May, the attorney will have to pay close to $2,500 to the Bar for expenses incurred during its investigation.