Friday, March 25, 2011

No Nexus Between Firearms Offense And Fitness As an Attorney

The Iowa Supreme Court has dismissed ethics charges against an attorney, rejected the recommendation of its Attorney Disciplinary Board. The board had sought a suspension of no less than nine months.

The attorney was admitted in 1972. He had previously been disciplined for conduct that took place after the breakup of his marriage in 2006-07. He became addicted to crack cocaine and had been in an accident on his way to the Muscatine courthouse after partying all night in July 2007.

The police obtained a warrant to search his house after the accident. They seized a firearm that the attorney had lawfully accepted custody of in 2006. Because he later became a crack addict, the possession of the weapon became unlawful. He was convicted of a federal firearms  offense. The issue before the court was whether the conduct that led to the conviction warranted additional discipline.

The court answered in the negative, concluding that the evidence failed to establish a nexus between the conduct and the attorney's fitness to practice law:

The board has established that [the attorney] was convicted of a felony for knowingly possessing a firearm while being an unlawful user of, or addicted to, a controlled substance. However, the board has not demonstrated how this conviction relates to [his] fitness to practice law. [His] illegal possession of a firearm has not affected the professional relationships he has with his clients, fellow lawyers, or judges. This criminal conduct has not called into question his ability to competently and vigorously represent clients in important controversies and guard confidential information. [He] legally gained possession of the firearm on behalf of a client prior to his struggles with addiction; therefore, the nexus linking his criminal conduct to his fitness to practice law is tenuous.

(Mike Frisch)

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