Friday, October 23, 2015
The Iowa Supreme Court has held that a criminal defendant's threats against a Dubuque County Attorney did not require that entire office's disqualification from the prosecution.
In this case of first impression, we are asked to decide whether under the facts presented here, the district court was correct in granting the motion for recusal or disqualification of the individual prosecuting attorney and the entire Dubuque County Attorney’s Office in its prosecution of the defendant. For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that the district court’s decision to disqualify the individual prosecuting attorney constituted an abuse of discretion. Consequently, it was likewise unnecessary to disqualify the entire Dubuque County Attorney’s Office. The writ of certiorari is sustained, and the case is remanded to the district court for further proceedings.
The defendant's threats came after a hearing on her boyfriend's criminal case. Although they were not co-defendants, they shared the same prosecutor.
On May 30, Erickson attended the bond review hearing for her boyfriend, James Evilsizer. Barnes also represented the State in the case against Evilsizer. After the hearing, the district court denied his requested relief, and Evilsizer was returned to the Dubuque County jail. Later that day, Erickson visited Evilsizer at the jail. The conversation between the two was video recorded. During the recorded conversation, Erickson made multiple disparaging remarks about Barnes. Erickson called Barnes a “c*nt,” a “biased c*nt,” and “literally Satan.”
Erickson also made remarks that could be taken as threats against Barnes. After Evilsizer told Erickson that her horoscope for the day said she was going to have a romantic evening, Erickson responded, “Yeah, with a sniper rifle for the State.” Later in the conversation, Erickson told Evilsizer, “I’m on the verge of going and buying a sniper rifle and just shooting this chick in her face.” When the two were discussing Erickson seeing Barnes after Evilsizer’s bond hearing, Erickson said she had thought, “Really, b*tch? You’re lucky we’re in court right now and I’m pregnant.”
Erickson also told Evilsizer that she was going to “get [Barnes] disbarred” by reporting her to the “judicial disciplinary committee” and that the committee would “rip her apart.” In addition to the remarks about the assistant county attorney, Erickson told Evilsizer that she was “about to snap the f*ck out,” that the State was “pushing [her] over the edge,” and that she was “borderline suicidal.”
These recorded remarks led to the revocation of Erickson's bond.
Here, the district court did not adequately explain its reasoning for concluding that Barnes had an actual conflict of interest or a serious potential for a conflict of interest. The district court provided no authority to support its decision to disqualify Barnes. The district court order also did not clarify under which standard Barnes was disqualified—actual conflict or serious potential for conflict...
We agree with the reasoning of other courts that have addressed the issue that threats alone are not sufficient to support a conflict of interest for a prosecutor which would require disqualification or recusal.
And there would be no imputed disqualification to the county attorney's office.
THOnline reported on the oral argument and the underlying case. (Mike Frisch)