People v. Saxon, Case Number: 16PDJ018

Docket NºCase Number: 16PDJ018
Citation470 P.3d 927
Case DateNovember 07, 2016
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado

470 P.3d 927

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Complainant,
v.
Sean Gardner SAXON, Respondent.

Case Number: 16PDJ018

Office of Presiding Disciplinary Judge of the Supreme Court of Colorado.

November 7, 2016


470 P.3d 928

OPINION AND DECISION IMPOSING SANCTIONS UNDER C.R.C.P. 251.19(b)

WILLIAM R. LUCERO, PRESIDING DISCIPLINARY JUDGE

470 P.3d 929

Sean Gardner Saxon ("Respondent"), a married attorney, hired an escort and then began a romantic relationship with her. Later, he physically assaulted and repeatedly emotionally harassed her in a course of conduct designed to control and humiliate her. After she ceased communication, he repaid her for her "coldness" by encouraging her to kill herself, despite knowing her history of mental illness, by threatening to expose her as a prostitute, and by threatening to have her criminally prosecuted. Then, unannounced, he appeared at her father's home in rural Tennessee, where he knew she would be caring for her father after his surgery. When she spurned this advance, he sent letters to her family members and classmates, disclosing her status as a prostitute, describing various sexual acts she performed with clients, and providing highly graphic nude photos of her. He later violated a protective order she had obtained, leading to his conviction of a class-two misdemeanor. This conduct warrants a suspension for three years.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On February 24, 2016, Alan C. Obye, Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel ("the People"), filed a complaint with Presiding Disciplinary Judge William R. Lucero ("the PDJ"), alleging Respondent had violated Colo. RPC 3.4(c), Colo. RPC 8.4(b) and C.R.C.P. 251.5(b), and Colo. RPC 8.4(h).

Five days later, the PDJ held a status conference, attended by Obye and Nancy L. Cohen, Respondent's counsel, to address concerns about the privacy of Jerene Dildine, the alleged victim of Respondent's misconduct. The Court elected to suppress the complaint and directed the People to file an amended complaint with Dildine's name and certain other information redacted. Later, at the hearing in this matter, both parties agreed that Dildine's name could be used freely. The People represented that Dildine did not object to that course of action.1

After the People filed their amended complaint on March 4, 2016, Respondent submitted his answer on March 28, 2016. The PDJ then set a hearing for August 30 and 31, 2016.

On April 26, 2016, complaining witness Thomas J. Overton, who is Dildine's attorney, moved to disqualify Cohen from representing Respondent. Overton argued that Cohen's membership on the Colorado Supreme Court's Advisory Committee created an inherent appearance of impropriety. The PDJ determined that Overton lacked standing to file his motion and that C.R.C.P. 251.34 does not mandate Cohen's disqualification.

On August 30 and 31, 2016, a Hearing Board comprising Paul J. Willumstad and Donald ("Chip") F. Cutler IV, members of the bar, and the PDJ held a hearing under C.R.C.P. 251.18.2 Obye represented the People, and Respondent appeared with Cohen. During the hearing, the Hearing Board considered the stipulated facts, stipulated exhibits S1-S58,3 the People's exhibit 5, Respondent's exhibits A and B, and the testimony of

470 P.3d 930

Tami Ward, Ivy Bishop-McClure, John Dildine, Jerene Dildine, Craig May, Dr. David S. Wahl, and Respondent.

II. FACTS AND RULE VIOLATIONS

Respondent took the oath of admission and was admitted to the bar of the Colorado Supreme Court on May 18, 2005, under attorney registration number 36387.4 He is thus subject to the jurisdiction of the Colorado Supreme Court and the Hearing Board in this disciplinary proceeding.5

Findings of Fact6

The Hearing Board notes at the outset that these factual findings may be disturbing to many readers because, among other things, they involve graphic language and descriptions of sexual activity. We include these facts below because we believe they are critical to understanding the nature of the misconduct here and the harm caused by that misconduct.

This case arises out of a relationship between Respondent and Dildine in late 2013 and early 2014. At the time, Respondent was a married father of three young girls. He had worked for Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell LLP since 2005, handling pharmaceutical and medical device litigation.

Dildine, who graduated from the University of Tennessee and had taught English as a Second Language and Spanish, began working as an escort, or prostitute, in 2013. She did so, she testified, because she could not pay her bills on a teacher's salary.7 She also began taking courses to obtain an aesthetician's license in January 2014. Using fictitious names, including "Jessica Kent," Dildine advertised her escort services on a handful of websites.8 Her online advertisements included photos of her body, but not her face. As such, she was not publicly identifiable as a prostitute.

Respondent contacted Dildine in early fall 2013 through www.preferred411.com. He testified that for a few years, he had sporadically hired other escorts. Respondent and Dildine first met in person in November 2013. He paid her for sex on that occasion and on one or two later occasions.9 Their arrangement then evolved into a somewhat more conventional dating relationship that lasted until the middle of March 2014.

Their relationship appears to have been marked by some genuine affection, sustained by shared intelligence as well as common interests and perspectives.10 But periods of harmony in their affair were punctuated by repeated conflicts, which stemmed in part from Respondent's frustration with Dildine's choice of work. Respondent wanted her to stop working as an escort, avoid meeting with clients before seeing him, and not perform certain acts with clients.11 In mid-December, Respondent and Dildine apparently argued after he saw a photo of her engaging in a sexual act with a client.12 Respondent emailed her: "I wanted so bad to believe that I could ‘wish away’ the truth about who you are. It was stupid and I feel like a fool."13 But Respondent and Dildine soon reunited, and Dildine promised she would not see any clients on the days that she saw him.

The same issues flared up again on January 15, 2014, during one of Respondent's

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visits to Dildine's apartment. As Dildine recalls, Respondent had seen evidence of a client's visit to her apartment; after having sex together, Respondent picked her up by her throat, threw her on the concrete floor, and called her a "nasty little whore."14 He then raised his fist. When she pleaded with him not to hurt her, he said he didn't know what had come over him. She was scared, thinking she was cornered in her apartment, but he complied when she asked him to leave.

In contrast to Dildine's account, Respondent testified that he mentioned during sex that he had earlier seen a client's can of alcohol in the bathroom. When she admitted that it was a client's, he grabbed her sweatshirt, picked her up so that he could get off the futon, pulled up his own pants, used profane language,15 and left the apartment. He insisted that after he lifted Dildine up, she ended up on the futon, not the floor. Respondent maintained that he has never been violent with a female since he was seventeen, when he once grabbed his girlfriend's arm in a way that he concluded was too rough—an action he resolved never to repeat. He said that his mother was the victim of physical abuse when he was a child, and such violence was not something he ever wanted to be "part of."

The Hearing Board finds clear and convincing evidence that Respondent did physically assault Dildine on January 15. According to Dildine, she stood 5'1? tall and weighed 105 pounds at the time.16 Respondent was significantly taller and larger. He worked out in his basement, where he kept weights, and at one point bragged to Dildine that he weighed 193 pounds, down from 227 pounds when they met.17 We thus believe he was physically able to throw Dildine, or at least shove her forcefully with his hand on her throat, as Dildine credibly testified. Indeed, he had previously demonstrated the physical capacity to injure her: just ten days earlier, during a sunny phase in their relationship, Dildine had texted him: "Btw—my back is bruised from you pushing on it. Like really, really bruised...."18 He responded: "... I'm so sorry. I had no idea I was hurting you...."19

Even more persuasive evidence of the assault is found in the text messages that Respondent and Dildine exchanged after the incident. On January 18, she texted: "I'm very shaken and depressed. I don't want to be alone with you."20 Two days later she said: "You want to hold me and kiss me until you get mad and then you want to grab me by the throat and call me names."21 She also referred to being "reminded of the awful things you said and did ."22 Respondent did not challenge her assertions that he had physically injured her; in fact, after she said that he had scared her, he wrote: "I understand. You're right.... I love you [and] will never hurt you or scare you or make you feel bad. I was wrong...."23 These texts, written shortly after the...

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1 practice notes
  • People v. Betterton-Fike, Case Number: 18PDJ043
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • 15 Abril 2020
    ...for one year and one day, with six months served and the remainder stayed pending a three-year period of probation); People v. Saxon , 470 P.3d 927, 940-52 (Colo. O.P.D.J. 2016) (a lawyer's conviction for violating a protection order and physically assaulting a former girlfriend, considered......
1 cases
  • People v. Betterton-Fike, Case Number: 18PDJ043
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • 15 Abril 2020
    ...for one year and one day, with six months served and the remainder stayed pending a three-year period of probation); People v. Saxon , 470 P.3d 927, 940-52 (Colo. O.P.D.J. 2016) (a lawyer's conviction for violating a protection order and physically assaulting a former girlfriend, considered......

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