Lenoir attorney accused of sex with client

May be punished by State Bar
Apr. 28, 2014 @ 12:31 PM

A longtime lawyer in Lenoir is accused of having sex with a client and falsely saying under oath that that he previously had sex with only one previous client.

The woman who filed the complaint with the N.C. State Bar, identified in the document only as Mrs. E.S., hired William Wallace Respess Jr. shortly after her May 14, 2012, release from a drug rehabilitation facility to represent her in a divorce and custody case involving her husband, two children, and distribution of their marital property, according to the complaint document. The rules of professional conduct forbid lawyers from having sex with clients.

The complaint also says Respess, 65, made a down-payment on a car for the woman and made the monthly loan payments on it for July through October 2013, and loaned her $5,000 in July 2013 toward the down-payment on a condominium.

In a deposition on Nov. 20, 2013, related to the woman's divorce case, Respess lied under oath by saying that he previously had sex with a client only once, in 1999 with a client identified as L.B. However, the complaint says, Respess had sex in 1982 and 1983 with a client identified as P.H. and in 1988 with a client identified as M.C.

The complaint also says that when the woman was talking to her estranged husband on the phone on July 7, 2013, about their children's visitation schedule, she handed the phone to Respess and he talked to the husband about the visitation schedule. Because he knew the husband had a lawyer, the rules of professional conduct required him to contact the lawyer.

Neither Respess nor his lawyer, Dudley Witt of Winston-Salem, could be reached Monday for comment. Respess has been a lawyer since 1976.

Respess has 20 days from the date he was served the complaint, which was April 4, to file a response. A disciplinary hearing is scheduled for August 22-23, said Barry McNeill, deputy counsel for the State Bar.