A family court judge on Wednesday dissolved a protective order barring Baton Rouge attorney Joel Porter from contacting a former client, but the judge also said evidence indicated the lawyer and his client engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship.
Shortly before dismissing a petition for a protective order that since May has kept Porter from contacting Ashley Noella Smith, his former client, East Baton Rouge Parish Family Court Judge Pamela Baker told her courtroom that she believed Porter and Smith had “a relationship that went well beyond that of an attorney-client,” according to a review of the judge’s ruling.
“This court does actually believe that they were actually having a sexual relationship,” Baker said, “and if not, (they) were somehow romantically involved.”
The judge said evidence presented in court, including some explicit text messages allegedly sent by Porter to Smith, contributed to her belief that the inappropriate relationship existed.
According to the American Bar Association’s model rules of professional conduct, “a lawyer shall not have sexual relations with a client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed between them when the client-lawyer relationship commenced.”
Porter, 57, has repeatedly denied ever having any type of sexual relationship with his former client. Smith, 26, has claimed Porter represented her in legal matters in exchange for sexual favors, then later stalked and harassed her.
Baker on Wednesday dismissed the protective order, saying Smith and her legal team did not present enough evidence to support her claims of harassment and stalking.
“They humiliated Joel Porter,” Harry Ezim Jr., one of Porter’s attorneys, said Thursday at Ezim’s law office. “They made it look like he did something very terrible.”
Ezim, joined by two other members of Porter’s legal team, organized a news conference Thursday to highlight the dismissal, which they characterized as proof that Smith’s claims of harassment were unfounded.
“It was garbage,” Ezim said of the claims. “It was nonsense.”
Porter did not attend the news conference. His lawyers said Porter could not make it because he was busy in court. Attempts to reach Porter on Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful.
Since Smith made the allegations, people around town have looked at Porter differently, Ezim said.
“People looked at him like he was a monster,” Ezim said.
During the conference, Ezim referenced the 1985 stabbing death of Porter’s wife, Denise Porter.
“He never did that,” Ezim said.
In the past year, Porter has filed defamation lawsuits against both Smith and a Baton Rouge Police Department cold case homicide detective who is investigating Denise Porter’s unsolved killing. Both suits are pending.
Porter also was jailed briefly in April, accused of violating a temporary restraining order against Smith. He posted $500 bail, and the same day, a City Court judge ruled Porter did not violate the order when one of his attorneys reached out to Smith, because Smith was serving as her own attorney at the time.
For Smith’s part, the woman’s attorney, Jill Craft, said Smith was happy to have the protection she did for the past several months.
“She is trying to move on with her life,” Craft said of Smith. “All she’s ever wanted is for this man to leave her alone.”
Near the end of Wednesday’s hearing, Baker, the judge, gave Porter what she described as the same advice she provides everyone once she dismisses a protective order.
For his own benefit, he should avoid Smith at all costs, Baker said even though he’s no longer legally banned from contacting her.
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.