Friday, February 17, 2017

Repeat Offender Suspended

The Iowa Supreme Court today suspended an attorney for at least six months without automatic reinstatement for a series of DUIs.

The story

Tarek A. Khowassah is an Iowa attorney. He was admitted to practice law in Iowa in 2005. He has worked in private practice and for the state public defender. He has received one private admonition. His license was suspended on one occasion in the past and is currently inactive. Khowassah is presently enrolled in an LLM tax program in Colorado. He intends to resume the practice of law in Iowa in the future.

This disciplinary proceeding against Khowassah relates to his conduct in June of 2014. It resulted in a plea of guilty to public intoxication and operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI), second offense. The facts were presented by stipulation and explored in a disciplinary hearing before the grievance commission. They involved two separate incidents.

The first incident occurred in the early morning hours of June 14, 2014. Khowassah was intoxicated while in downtown Iowa City. He intervened with police officers who were engaged in an encounter with another individual, and Khowassah was arrested and charged with interference with official acts. He pled guilty to public intoxication, a simple misdemeanor.

One week later, Iowa City police found Khowassah sleeping in the driver’s seat of his vehicle while it was parked in a parking ramp with the engine running. He was intoxicated. He was arrested and charged with OWI, third offense. Khowassah pled guilty to OWI, second offense, an aggravated misdemeanor. 

Sanction

Prior convictions are relevant to determining whether an attorney has engaged in a pattern of criminal conduct. Iowa Supreme Ct. Att’y Disciplinary Bd. v. Cannon, 821 N.W.2d 873, 879 (Iowa 2012). In this case, Khowassah was privately admonished for his first OWI conviction in 2011. He received a deferred judgment in the underlying criminal proceedings. However, in 2012, he was convicted of OWI again. This time, his license to practice law was suspended for three months. Khowassah, 837 N.W.2d at 658. Now, less than four months after we reinstated his license, Khowassah has violated the law on two more occasions, including his third conviction of OWI. The stipulated facts and record establish a pattern of criminal conduct that reflects adversely on Khowassah’s fitness to practice law...

Here, there are a number of mitigating circumstances. Khowassah testified at his hearing that he was engaged in rehabilitative efforts and is attempting to live a healthy and sober lifestyle...

He meets individually with a therapist once a week to discuss alcohol and his personal life. He also attends group sessions twice a week at a treatment center. These efforts show he is now willing to acknowledge the problems that led to his misconduct and address his misuse of alcohol. He accepted full responsibility for his actions. He cooperated with the Board during its investigation. He has also paid his court-ordered obligations and is in compliance with the terms of his probation. He has not reoffended.

Bottom line

Considering all relevant factors, we conclude Khowassah’s conduct in this matter warrants an indefinite suspension from the practice of law with no possibility of reinstatement for a period of six months. His criminal conduct was serious, but most concerning was the overall pattern of conduct. Khowassah’s repeated violations of the law reflect poorly on his judgment and could prompt disrespect and distrust of the legal profession as a whole. Thus, we agree with the commission’s recommendation that he should provide medical documentation of his maintenance of sobriety and fitness to practice law as part of any future request to reinstate his license to practice. 

(Mike Frisch)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2017/02/we-mentioned-last-week-the-state-to-state-disparity-in-disciplinary-responses-t-o-impaired-driving-convictions-in-that-post.html

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