Friday, March 19, 2010

County Attorney Suspended

An Iowa attorney was suspended for an indefinite period not to exceed six months by the Iowa Supreme Court. The attorney was admitted in 2004 and is presently the Floyd County Attorney. The complainant alleged that the attorney had engaged in a sexual relationship with her after representing her in a mental health commitment hearing. As the attorney was running for his current office at the time, the news of the allegation spread quickly and was "highly publicized by the local and surrounding media." The attorney spoke publicly about the allegations during the "hotly contested three-way race" that he eventually won.

The disciplinary commission had found insufficient evidence of a sexual relationship but that the public comments revealed confidential information. One member would have found that the evidence established at least one occasion of sexual intercourse.

The attorney was appointed to represent the client after she was involuntarily hospitalized for an overdose. When she was released, the attorney agreed to give her a ride to Charles City: "two inconsistent accounts of what transpired in the following hours, days, and weeks emerged at the disciplinary hearing."  The court found that the evidence (recited in detail down to a physical description of the attorney's buttocks) was "wildly conflicting" and "tended to both corroborate and discredit" the testimony of both.

As to the buttocks: "[the attorney] flatly denied [the client's] description of his buttocks. Yet, he failed to further counter the claim of [flabby butt] with equally sharp and decisive evidence to verify his denial. The claim involved an unusual but distinctive condition of a private part of a person's body, and [he] had the ability to disprove the existence of the condition and discredit [the client]."

The court found, as a result of its de novo review, that the evidence established the sexual relationship. The evidence failed to establish a sex-for-fees arrangement. The court further found that the attorney violated his duty of confidentiality by publicly disclosing the client's prior history and litigation involving her former probation officer. The attorney's ability to defend against allegations not absolute. A lawyer can reveal confidential information only in the appropriate forum and only to the extent necessary to offer protection.

The court concluded that a suspension was called for in light of the client's vulnerablity. Justice Appel, joined by Justice Baker, concurred and dissented and would defer to the commission's findings with respect to the sexual relationship claims. They would impose a public reprimand for the confidentiality violation.

A story on the court's decision from is linked here. (Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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