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Former prosecutor suspended for unwelcome contact during legal conference

By: Laura Brown//May 16, 2024//

(Deposit Photos)

Former prosecutor suspended for unwelcome contact during legal conference

By: Laura Brown//May 16, 2024//

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Attorney Charles Gerlach has been suspended from the practice of law after slapping a woman’s rear end two times at a social gathering after a legal skills conference.

Gerlach was admitted to practice law in Minnesota in 1998. He worked as a prosecutor for the majority of his career, most recently in Stearns County. Gerlach currently works as a criminal defense attorney at Gerlach Law.

No stranger to legal conferences throughout his career, Gerlach was a faculty member of a conference held in May 2023. Having helped found the conference, Gerlach served as a member of the conference’s faculty at least 10 times since 2014.

A female lawyer and participant at the May 2023 conference attended a reception at a local brewery that was offered following the course curriculum. She walked by Gerlach, and his hand made contact with her rear end in a way that she thought was a slap. Confused about whether the contact was intentional, the woman told others that she thought that Gerlach just slapped or smacked her buttocks. Another participant, who was walking with Gerlach during the alleged smack, saw it happen.

The participant needed to walk past Gerlach to get back to her table. As she walked by Gerlach again, he apparently reached out and slapped her buttocks with an open hand a second time. Another participant, and a witness who was walking 10 feet behind her, saw the second slap. The witness described the slap as “plain as day.”

Nevertheless, Gerlach apparently reached under the participant’s chair and pulled it to create a space between her and another participant. He then pulled up a chair and sat in the space that he created. While he was talking to the group, Gerlach proceeded to allegedly touch the participant’s hands and arms, and also brush his leg against hers.

The others in the group noticed that the lawyer participant was very uncomfortable with the situation. One participant in the group texted the participant to see if she would want to sit in a different seat. Another conference participant described Gerlach’s behavior as “handsy.”

After these interactions, the participant struggled with whether to report the unwanted conduct. She texted another conference participant that night, “I just don’t want to make it a thing because he’s a big crimesex prosecutor and that’s what I want to do.” The next morning, a witness noticed the participant get tears in her eyes when Gerlach was mentioned as the next session presenter. The participant ended up leaving the training because she “just felt really uncomfortable and anxious about the whole thing.”

Following an initial investigation, Gerlach was asked to leave the conference. Gerlach’s employer also conducted an investigation. Upon completion of that investigation, Gerlach was fired from his job.

On March 18, 2024, the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility filed a petition seeking public discipline of Gerlach for his unwelcomed gender-based physical contact on two separate occasions while serving as a faculty member at a legal skills conference.

On May 9, the Minnesota Supreme Court, noting that Gerlach “unconditionally admits the allegations of the petition,” ordered a 30-day suspension, to commence May 23.

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