The State Bar of Arizona is looking to throw the book at a Phoenix attorney who told a client that she was channeling his dead wife, then allegedly lied about it during an unrelated disciplinary proceeding.
An Arizona Supreme Court hearing officer in June recommended that attorney Charna Johnson’s law license be suspended for six months and a day followed by two years of probation. Both Johnson and the State Bar objected to the hearing officer’s recommendation. The Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Arizona earlier this month upped Johnson’s suspension to one year followed by two years of probation after oral arguments were made on Sept. 11.
The State Bar is still not satisfied with the punishment, however. It has filed a notice of its intention to ask the Supreme Court to review the case and disbar Johnson, said Bar counsel Stephen Little.
Johnson’s attorney, Nancy Greenlee, a solo practitioner, declined to comment on the case citing its ongoing nature. Johnson did not respond to calls for comment.
The strange case is a first for Arizona, said State Bar spokesman Rick DeBruhl.
“I don’t think anyone has had a case like this before,” he said.
The allegations that Johnson channeled her client’s dead wife surfaced in an unrelated disciplinary case involving Johnson’s handling of a different client’s will. Johnson was censured in January of 2009 and given a year of probation for her conduct related to the creation of the will, but she denied acting as a medium for the dead at the time, DeBruhl said.
However, a hearing officer’s report prepared in June disputes that claim. The report says that Johnson began representing the client involved with the most recent disciplinary action in 2000 in divorce proceedings after meeting him in a ballroom dancing class. The client’s wife committed suicide several months later, and Johnson handled the probate matters.
Within days of the death, Johnson began telling her client that “his deceased wife Jan had ‘come’ to her and that Jan’s ’spirit’ was ‘inside’ her and that she could communicate Jan’s thoughts,” according to the report. The client testified that Johnson pressured him to have a sexual relationship with her, although she told the investigator that the references to sex were coming from the deceased wife, not herself.
The State Bar has argued that Johnson should be disbarred not only because of her inappropriate conduct toward her client, in which she lied about channeling his deceased wife, but because she “continued those lies over an extended period in an effort to minimize her conduct,” according to the latest decision.
During her latest testimony before the disciplinary commission, Johnson said she misunderstood the channeling question posed during the prior proceedings and did not intentionally lie.
Little said the State Bar intends to file its appeal of the disciplinary commission’s recommended one-year suspension within a week.