Local (ACLU) lawyer permanently disbarred for child-sex online chats

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Monday, April 16, 2007


Chatting online about sex with someone he believed was a 12-year-old boy has earned a Jersey City lawyer permanent disbarment in New Jersey, officials said.

The disbarment is the result of a guilty plea by Steven C. Cunningham to one count of attempted endangerment of the welfare of a child, an act that “reflects adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer,” according to the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics.

On three separate occasions between September and October 2004, Cunningham chatted online via his home computer in Jersey City with a person he believed to be a 12-year-old boy, officials said. In reality, it was an undercover Passaic County investigator.

During the sessions, Cunningham “described, in lurid detail, certain sexual acts that he hoped to perform on the boy,” court papers said.

“He also described sex acts that he hoped to teach the boy to perform on him, inviting the child to ‘get together in New York,’” according to the documents.

Cunningham pleaded guilty to the charges Dec. 13, 2005, and was sentenced to parole supervision for the rest of his life, court papers say.
A similar case in 2002 resulted in a one-year suspension for another lawyer, but the state Supreme Court instead ordered disbarment for life, saying society’s view of such crimes is more harsh today.

“These rules change as society change and the court is obviously viewing them as among the most serious violations an attorney can commit,” said David E. Johnson Jr., director of the Office of Attorney Ethics. “This is a very serious matter and the court imposed the most serious discipline.”
Cunningham had no prior record nor prior attorney ethics charges, officials said. The disbarment only affects his status to practice law in New Jersey; authorities said he also is licensed to practice law in New York, but Johnson said his office is notifying authorities there.

Cunningham could not be reached at his Jersey City residence for comment.

Court papers say he was employed by the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, but officials at that office did not immediately return calls.


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