The Wyoming Supreme Court disbarred a former Torrington municipal judge after a lawyers’ disciplinary board found he’d slept with a client of his private law practice and lied to investigators about it.
The state’s highest court ordered Gregory L. Knudsen’s law license defunct on July 15th in its Wednesday ruling. A disciplinary board filing attached to the ruling also states the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation in April searched Knudsen’s home and law office. The reason for the searches was unclear — warrants and supporting affidavits were filed under seal — but the board’s filing states DCI also had copies of text messages between Knudsen and the client.
Calls to the municipal court, the city attorney and Knudsen’s law office seeking comment for this story went unanswered early Friday evening. Although the city’s website still listed Knudsen as the court’s judge, the City Council’s records published on its website state Nathaniel Hibben on Jan. 2 took over the position.
According to a report issued in late June by the Wyoming State Bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility, Knudsen represented in his private practice a woman who in spring 2018 was in the midst of a divorce. The client, who was a close friend of Knudsen’s municipal court clerk, had fired another lawyer and hired Knudsen, putting down about $1,500. Knudsen and the woman did not draw up paperwork covering fees, but he told her he would try to keep the fees down because of her friendship with the clerk, according to the board.
In mid-May, Knudsen began texting the woman and soon began sending the woman sexually suggestive animated images, according to the board’s report. She, at one point, wrote “you need to think of the consequences for me,” but the messaging continued.
By the end of the month, Knudsen and the woman had begun a sexual relationship, the report states. He soon began urging her to continue the relationship and to delete text messages alluding to the relationship, according to the board. By June, Knudsen had billed the woman $1,400 for about 7 hours of work, which he withdrew from the amount she had already put down up front, the report states.
He did not bill her for any more of the work he did on the case in the following months, according to the bar.
In March of this year, the woman’s ex-husband complained to the bar and alleged Knudsen had violated a rule prohibiting lawyers from having sexual relationships with their clients, unless the sexual relationship predated the legal one, according to the bar. Knudsen told the bar that he did not begin dating the woman until October or December of 2018, after he had concluded his representation of her, according to the report.
After Knudsen’s statements, DCI searched his home and office, seizing his electronic communications with the woman, according to the state bar. The reason for DCI’s investigation was unclear, the bar report states. After the law enforcement agency turned over the texts to the state bar, Knudsen began negotiations with the bar and eventually agreed to its findings supporting disbarment.
The court also orders Knudsen pay $800 by Sept. 30 to the state bar, which is responsible for vetting and certifying lawyers for practice in the state. He will wind down his practice by July 15.