Missouri Supreme Court won’t disbar defense attorney who sexually assaulted six women

The Missouri Supreme Court won’t disbar a defense attorney who sexually assaulted six clients, including episodes of unwanted kissing and touching captured on video, leading one judge to issue a scathing dissent denouncing the court’s decision.

In a 4-3 decision, the state’s high court ruled Tuesday that Dan K. Purdy, an Osceola-based attorney, will be indefinitely suspended from practicing law but allowed to apply for reinstatement after a year. A disciplinary hearing panel had recommended Purdy be disbarred.

“There may have been a time when a temporary suspension was an adequate punishment for sexually assaulting or harassing a client, vulnerable or otherwise … but, in my view, that time is long gone,” Judge Zel Fischer wrote in his dissent.

Judge George Draper, writing in the majority opinion, acknowledged Purdy, 86, had committed the assaults and severely faulted him for his conduct, but stopped short of fully kicking him out of the legal profession.

In September 2020, Purdy made sexual advances toward four clients in a Vernon County jail interview room, including touching and kissing, that were confirmed by video provided by the Vernon County Sheriff’s Office. Each woman was later interviewed by officers and told them Purdy’s advances were unwanted.

In March 2021, courtroom video footage in St. Clair County showed Purdy touching a clients’ buttocks. The court opinion notes the client submitted an affidavit that she believed Purdy didn’t touch her inappropriately.

Later that year, Purdy was transporting a client in his vehicle, according to the opinion. Video from the client’s phone shows Purdy, while driving, reach across the seat and touch the client’s breast under her blouse. The opinion says the client said the sexual contact was unwanted.

“Purdy not only attempted to sexually assault female clients, he actually did so. Purdy’s assaults happened multiple times with multiple clients in multiple situations over an extended period of time,” Draper wrote in the majority opinion.

“Purdy’s unwanted sexual assaults happened in the jail, in open court, and in his private vehicle. Further, Purdy’s clients either did not know or did not realize they could repudiate his sexual advances. Purdy fails to grasp the severity of his conduct or these charges.”

Still, Draper wrote that the discipline is consistent with what the court has issued in response to past sexual misconduct by lawyers. And he noted the discipline is more severe than what Purdy has requested.

Purdy had asked the court to allow him to apply for reinstatement after six months. His law license had already been suspended on an interim basis since December 2021.

Draper’s opinion was joined by Judges Mary Russell, Patricia Breckenridge and Robin Ransom. Chief Justice Paul Wilson and Judge Brent Powell joined Fischer’s dissent.

Fischer wrote that he was “deeply distressed” by the court’s decision. He said Purdy’s advanced age was implicit in the decision and emphasized the conduct had been captured on video.

Anything less than disbarment won’t protect the public or legal profession, Fischer wrote.

“In my view, neither the race, gender, ethnicity, nor age of an attorney should be taken into consideration to determine appropriate discipline,” Fischer wrote. “In my view, Mr. Purdy’s conduct, which was clearly and explicitly depicted in the video evidence, warrants disbarment.”

A call to a number for Purdy’s law office wasn’t answered on Tuesday.