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Thu, Oct. 17

Lawyer suspended for violating attorney-client relationship

The state Supreme Court suspended a prominent attorney who practiced law for many years in Prescott for having an affair with a client and then trying to obtain custody of her child.

The court ordered Chester R. Lockwood, who was admitted to the bar in 1973, suspended for six months, retroactive to March 8.

Lockwood reported his misconduct to the court, according to the State Bar of Arizona, which released the decision Thursday.

Lockwood could not be reached for comment.

Lockwood began a sexual relationship with the woman who he represented in a divorce in February 2004, according to a report by a court hearing officer. During their relationship, Lockwood also formed a fatherly bond with her infant daughter. During his time with the woman, Lockwood learned that she allegedly used illegal drugs.

By April 2008, Lockwood, believing that he no longer represented the woman, filed a petition seeking temporary custody of the child while the woman regained sobriety.

"At the time (Lockwood) believed the child was in physical (or) emotional danger," the report stated.

At a hearing in the case, Judge Rhonda Repp noted that Lockwood was still the woman's attorney-of-record. However, Repp allowed him to take custody of the child on an emergency basis. Eventually, Lockwood, who also gained temporary custody a second time, and the woman reached an agreement to share legal custody, with the mother having physical custody of her child.

Meanwhile, the hearing officer found that Lockwood violated various rules of professional conduct. However, he also took into account an "absence of dishonest or selfish motive." Lockwood "was acting in what he believed was the best interest of the infant child. The fact the court ordered temporary custody to (Lockwood) on two separate occasions, even though he is not the natural father of the child, supports this belief," the hearing officer wrote.

But the officer also said, "Not only did (Lockwood) have an inappropriate intimate relationship with his client while representing her, he obtained confidential information from her, which he later used against her in an effort to take custody of her minor child from her."

The court also ordered Lockwood to serve one year probation and submit to a one-time assessment with the State Bar's member assistance program. He must also pay all costs for the investigation and discipline.

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