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Disbarment ends saga of sex and coverup for Hickory-area attorney

A former candidate for Hickory-area district attorney is now a former lawyer, ending what authorities describe as a four-year saga of sex, lies and a death threat.

Late last month, the N.C. State Bar seized Shawn Clark’s law license. It had accused the well-known Newton attorney of having an affair with a client, then taking illegal and unethical steps to hide it.

Clark, who narrowly lost a bitter Republican primary race for district attorney of Catawba, Burke and Caldwell counties to incumbent Jay Gaither in 2010, has already pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the case. He can reapply for his law license in five years.

Margaret Cloutier, deputy counsel for the state bar, said the group started its investigation of Clark 21/2 years ago. She called the case “disturbing.”

Clark could not be reached for comment Monday.

Here’s the State Bar’s account of the case:

Clark began the affair with his client in 2009, which her estranged husband learned about several months after it ended. In January 2010, he filed a civil complaint against Clark for alienation of affection. It included sworn statements from his wife acknowledging the affair.

Earlier, Clark pressured his former client to sign an affidavit denying they had sex. When she refused to lie, Clark threatened to breach their attorney-client relationship and release highly personal information that would cost her custody of her children. He told her to watch her back, “because things would get ugly.”

In January 2010, they did.

Clark and his wife filed what the bar describes as a frivolous lawsuit against the husband of his former client. In it, they included the damaging personal information about the client, which Clark only knew because he represented her.

Clark also asked his legal assistant – the wife of a sitting Catawba County judge – not to tell anyone about the affair. She told him she would “not put her hand on the Bible and lie for anyone.”

The bar said an angry Clark told her she was his only “loose end,” that he would not lose his family or law license over the matter, then added, “You know I’m going to have to kill you.”

The assistant quit her job the next day.

In November 2011, Clark was indicted on extortion and obstruction charges. Last year, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of communicating threats and obstruction of justice. His 90-day jail sentence was waived, and Clark was placed on a year’s probation and community service.

Clark, who was admitted to the bar in 1997, had not been disciplined before. However, the bar accused him of lying to the group’s investigators and pressuring both a former client and an employee to commit perjury, among a long list of charges.

In representing the former client, Clark’s main job was to help her keep custody of her children. When the two had their affair, Clark knew she had been a victim of domestic abuse, making her “more vulnerable than the average client,” according to the summary of Clark’s disbarment.

After Clark dropped her as a client in 2009, the woman lost custody of her children.

Gordon: 704-358-5095
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