EASTON -- A prominent Eastern Shore lawyer is facing professional misconduct charges as the result of allegations of sexual abuse, including accusations from a former client and a secretary that he made them submit to spankings because they were "bad girls."
The Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission has charged George J. Goldsborough Jr., 67 and a member of a blue-blooded Eastern Shore family, with general misconduct relating to the sexual abuse accusations and with making false statements to a panel investigating the matter.
No charges were lodged against the four other lawyers in the firm of Goldsborough and Tolley, or against lawyers who previously worked with Mr. Goldsborough.
Mr. Goldsborough would not talk to a reporter,but his attorney denied the allegations and said Mr. Goldsborough would contest the charges at a hearing this summer.
"The allegations, even if they were true, do not constitute professional misconduct," said Mary Weidner, a lawyer with the Annapolis firm of William A. Franch, which is representing Mr. Goldsborough. Mr. Franch and Mr. Goldsborough were once partners.
The investigation, which took nearly 18 months and covers incidents dating back to 1978, included interviews with lawyers and former Goldsborough clients from Salisbury to Easton.
Mr. Goldsborough was eventually cited in connection with incidents involving two former clients and a woman who once worked as his personal secretary.
Two of the women told state investigators they were forced to submit to spankings -- one of them bare-bottomed, according to commission records.
The names of the women involved in the grievance case are not included in this story to protect their privacy.
According to documents filed with the Wicomico County Circuit Court, where the hearing is to be conducted, Mr. Goldsborough is accused of making a false statement when he denied in a letter to investigators that he had ever spanked a secretary in his office.
At a later confidential hearing, Mr. Goldsborough admitted under oath that he had spanked the woman once, "but never having bared her bottom or compelled her to do anything against her will," according to documents filed by the grievance panel.
A second charge of making a false statement involves Mr. Goldsborough's account of his separation from two groups of lawyers who practiced with him over the last 10 years.
Two lawyers left his firm to set up their own practices, partly because they were disturbed by allegations of sexual harassment. Their concerns about "abuses . . . of the female staff and female clientele" are part of court records dealing with the breakups.
Mr. Goldsborough is charged with lying to the inquiry panel when he denied that any partnerships of which he had been a member had dissolved.
Technically, Mr. Goldsborough may have been truthful because the entities that broke up were corporations, not partnerships.
However, Mr. Goldsborough's distinction was seen as intentionally misleading and reportedly angered the panel of lawyers, according to sources close to the commission's investigation.
"The charges look like his misrepresentation about the allegations may have the more serious impact," said John C. Broderick, assistant bar counsel for the grievance panel, although he added, "I don't know that I'd draw the conclusion that anyone was unconcerned about what he did to women."
If a judge finds the charges to be factual, the state Court of Appeals could take away Mr. Goldsborough's license to practice law, thus ending a career he began in 1950.
A member of a family that traces its Maryland roots back 11 generations to a Colonial governor, Mr. Goldsborough was educated at Cornell University, the U.S. Military Academy and George Washington University, where he later lectured to law students.
He has practiced law in Washington and on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay. Mr. Goldsborough once served as president of the Maryland State Bar Association's litigation section. From 1973 to 1974, he was president of the Talbot County Bar Association.
His influence in state legal circles spilled into the political arena in 1964 when he was picked to handle the legal work for Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace's first bid in a Maryland presidential race.
Over the years, Mr. Goldsborough also developed a reputation as a legal scholar and as a charming host at parties held on his estate outside Easton. Always a successful general civil litigator, he is particularly well-known as a formidable and intimidating courtroom opponent in divorce cases.
But there has been other talk about Mr. Goldsborough around the water coolers of Easton, where his operation earned the nickname "Spanky and his gang."
Once the report of the Attorney Grievance Commission became public, the accusations once whispered grew louder. Other women -- past employees and clients -- have begun to step forward to describe similar incidents involving Mr. Goldsborough.
At least one additional former client has described her experiences to investigators for the grievance panel.
However, the courtroom hearing against Mr. Goldsborough will focus on allegations made by the three women during the original investigation. If the commission decides to pursue additional complaints, its rules would require a new proceeding.
Commission documents filed with the court allege that in 1978 Mr. Goldsborough went to the home of a client who had been struck in the face by a shotgun slug fired by a trespassing deer hunter.
While at the client's house, the report alleges, Mr. Goldsborough told the young woman she had been a "bad girl," pulled her onto his lap and spanked her.
A similar incident happened later in his Easton office, according to the report.
Another alleged spanking victim was a young woman hired as a legal secretary in Mr. Goldsborough's firm. The commission report said she was subjected to a series of bare-bottomed spankings until Mr. Goldsborough's wife learned of the incidents and asked the secretary to quit her job.
The young woman underwent counseling that was paid for by Mrs. Goldsborough, the commission's documents say.
Evidence of the bare-bottomed spanking allegations includes a note written by the secretary in which she admits to having made a "no-brainer," an office term for a mistake, according to several sources familiar with the case.
The note adds that the secretary knew she would have to stay "after school" (meaning after office hours) for a bare-bottomed spanking. The note was given to investigators, according to some of those interviewed by investigators.
In an interview with The Sun, one of the former clients named in the commission documents said Mr. Goldsborough was recommended to her when she was going through a divorce in 1984.
She said that she went to his Easton office twice to discuss the divorce proceedings and that he made unsolicited sexual advances during the second visit.
She said she was upset by what happened and felt the lawyer had taken advantage of emotional distress brought on by her broken marriage.
"He made me feel like I was a loser all the way around," she said.
Another woman who spoke to The Sun said that she, too, had retained Mr. Goldsborough as her divorce lawyer and that on several occasions he had made unwanted sexual advances.
The woman, who said she was told at the time by her boyfriend not to make her accusations public, said she thought her incident was isolated until she heard of the Attorney Grievance Commission's formal investigation.
Mr. Goldsborough referred a reporter to his attorney, who said he would have no comment on these additional allegations.
Lawyers and support staff who used to work with Mr. Goldsborough said that they were aware of reports of sexual harassment in the office but added that had no firsthand knowledge of them.
However, concern about the stories was great enough that male lawyers tried to make sure female employees of the firm were not left alone with Mr. Goldsborough, said Ruth Thomas, a former secretary at the Goldsborough firm who is now office manager for the firm Walsh and Phillips in Easton.