A split Missouri Supreme Court issued a one-year suspension to an 86-year-old attorney who had inappropriately touched six clients. Three dissenting judges would have disbarred him.
St. Clair County attorney Dan K. Purdy made unwanted sexual advances toward four of his female clients while they were in Vernon County Jail, which was captured on video in 2020. A St. Clair County Circuit Court camera also caught footage of Purdy touching a client’s butt. After an initial complaint, another client took a video of him rubbing her breast while he was driving in 2021.
Purdy and the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel filed a joint stipulation seeking a one-year suspension. A disciplinary hearing panel recommended he be disbarred. On appeal before the Missouri Supreme Court, Purdy sought to apply the 15 months he’d been suspended from practicing while waiting for a resolution of his case to a six-month suspension so he could be reinstated immediately.
Purdy’s attorney, Daniel F. Church of Morrow Wilnauer Church in Kansas City, did not respond to a call requesting comment. During Jan. 25 oral arguments, Church said because the panel didn’t explain why it recommended disbarment, he suggested that the video evidence had inflamed the panel’s suggestion to disbar Purdy.
“Video evidence shouldn’t be the basis to impose more severe sanctions,” Church said.
The six-month suspension comes from case law including In re Littleton from 1986 and In re Howard from 1995, in which attorneys attempted sexual advances against a client and received the same result.
During oral arguments, Gail Vasterling of the OCDC said that case law did not support Purdy’s request on appeal.
“Here, the interim suspension was sought because Respondent continued to engage in the same misconduct after the information was filed,” Vasterling said. “He should not benefit from using the same interim suspension as a mitigating factor to his discipline.”
Judge George W. Draper wrote the March 21 majority opinion in favor of the OCDC. He wrote that while Purdy had argued his conduct weighed less than that of Littleton and Howard, the majority disagreed because he “not only attempted to sexually assault female clients, he actually did so,” multiple times and on multiple occasions.
“Purdy fails to grasp the severity of his conduct or these charges,” Draper wrote. “Rather than admitting his conduct was inappropriate and taking responsibility for his actions, Purdy stated he believed his clients were ‘enticing’ him.”
Judges Mary R. Russell, Patricia Breckenridge and Robin Ransom concurred.
The majority opinion noted Judge Warren Welliver’s dissent of Littleton: “It is inconceivable that we will deprive the public of adequate legal representation by disbarring a few of those who prove themselves unqualified to represent the public.”
Judge Zel Fischer wrote in a dissent that he would have disbarred Purdy for the sake of the public and the legal profession’s reputation. He noted that there is now one lawyer for every 200 people in the state, and the number of Missouri attorneys has nearly doubled since he became a lawyer in 1988.
“There may have been a time when a temporary suspension was an adequate punishment for sexually assaulting or harassing a client, vulnerable or otherwise,” Fischer wrote, citing Littleton, “but, in my view, that time is long gone.”
Chief Judge Paul C. Wilson and Judge W. Brent Powell concurred.
The case is In re: Dan K. Purdy, SC99818.