Friday, January 25, 2019
The Iowa Supreme Court has suspended a former prosecutor who engaged in criminal conduct by stealing a colleague's undergarments.
The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board (the Board) brought a complaint against an attorney, alleging numerous violations of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct. The attorney stole a woman colleague’s underpants from her home, rifled through and photographed her undergarments in her bedroom, and rifled through female colleagues’ gym bags at the office to photograph their undergarments, all for his personal sexual gratification. A division of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission (the commission) found the attorney’s conduct violated our ethical rules.
Based on the attorney’s violation of our rules, the commission recommended we suspend his license to practice law for not less than ninety days. On our de novo review, we find the attorney violated three provisions of our rules. However, we disagree with the length of the recommended suspension. We suspend the attorney’s license to practice law indefinitely with no possibility of reinstatement for one year from the date of filing this opinion. We also find that before reinstatement, the attorney must provide an evaluation from a licensed healthcare professional verifying his fitness to practice law.
Attorney Benjamin Stansberry received his license to practice law in Iowa in 2004. From 2010 until his resignation in 2016, he worked as an assistant county attorney in the Marshall County Attorney’s Office. On August 22, 2016, Stansberry texted his colleague Jane Doe and asked if he could stop by her home with his three-year-old son. At the time, Stansberry was in a supervisory role at the Marshall County Attorney’s Office, and Doe was an assistant county attorney under Stansberry’s supervision. Doe was mowing her lawn when Stansberry arrived at her home.
Stansberry asked Doe if he could use her restroom and if Doe could watch his sleeping child who was in a stroller while he went inside. Doe agreed and waited outside with Stansberry’s child. Stansberry was inside Doe’s home for about five minutes, then came outside and left with his child. Doe continued doing yard work when she noticed a piece of cloth lying in the middle of her driveway. She soon realized the object was a pair of her underpants.
The same evening, Doe reported the incident to her boss, Marshall County Attorney Jennifer Miller. An investigation ensued, and the county attorney’s office put Stansberry on administrative leave on August 23. When questioned by law enforcement about his actions, Stansberry denied taking anything from Doe’s home, denied taking any photographs in Doe’s home, and denied deleting any photographs from his mobile phone.
The investigation, however, led to a search of Stansberry’s mobile phone. The search revealed Stansberry had deleted photographs showing that he had entered Doe’s bedroom and photographed her undergarment drawer, he had entered Doe’s office and photographed undergarments in her gym bag, and he had entered the office of another colleague—Jane Roe—and photographed her undergarments in her gym bag as well. Stansberry officially resigned from the county attorney’s office on August 26.
At the time he left the county attorney’s office, Stansberry was the counsel of record for the state in approximately 145 cases. Miller found Stansberry had not followed the office protocol of note-taking and saving communications with defense attorneys in the office’s software database. Thus, other county attorneys in the office spent considerable time trying to assess the status of Stansberry’s cases. This resulted in dismissed charges because of missed deadlines, upset victims, and significant additional work for the county attorney’s office and the district court clerk’s office.
He caused mental anguish to the victims
Stansberry victimized his female colleagues. He dug through their gym bags and pulled out their undergarments so he could photograph them. He stole a pair of underpants from a colleague’s bedroom. Stansberry admitted to engaging in this conduct for sexual gratification. No person should feel unsafe at his or her home or place of work due to the sexual misdeeds of a colleague. Stansberry’s actions traumatized the victims. His actions required those female attorneys to seek counseling. Worst of all, one of the attorneys was so traumatized that she quit her job, moved to another county, and started her career anew.
And misused his office
Here, Stansberry targeted women attorneys under his supervision. Stansberry snuck into the offices of Doe and Roe, rifled through their personal bags, and took photographs of their undergarments for his own sexual gratification. Stansberry’s conduct took place at the victims’ and Stansberry’s place of work in the county attorney’s office.
Stansberry used his position and his job to find his victims—both of whom were also attorneys at the county attorney’s office. Stansberry testified the reason he knew Doe was because they worked together at the district attorney’s office, which is why she trusted Stansberry to go into her home alone and use her restroom.
But the conduct was not prejudicial to the administration of justice
Here, Stansberry’s actions led to his resignation at the county attorney’s office. His resignation, not his criminal and ethical misconduct, was the direct cause of the continuances and dismissals of cases. At the time of his resignation, Stansberry was counsel of record in 145 cases. County Attorney Jennifer Miller testified that Stansberry’s mishandling of some of his cases led to many extra hours of work for the county attorney’s office. In addition, defendants were given generous plea offers because of approaching deadlines, approximately ten cases had to be dismissed for failure to meet deadlines, and it took approximately six months for the office to catch up on the workload after Stansberry’s abrupt departure.
However, the Board did not charge Stansberry with any ethical violations regarding work-place negligence that led to the problems Miller testified to at the hearing.
Whenever an attorney leaves employment, other attorneys and staff members must make sure the attorney’s work is completed. Although Stansberry’s charged ethical misconduct may have been a foreseeable cause of the delay in cases and extra work for the office, it was not the direct cause of the delay in cases and extra work for the office. If we were to hold otherwise, every time we suspend an attorney’s license to practice law and his or her cases have to be continued, the attorney would be engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.
We find a violation of this rule can only happen when the attorney’s misconduct is a direct cause of the delay. Thus, we disagree with the commission’s finding that Stansberry violated rule 32:8.4(d).
Stansberry engaged in a pattern of improper conduct by repeatedly going through his colleagues’ gym bags, culminating in the criminal act of entering Doe’s home under false pretenses and stealing her underpants. Stansberry acted intentionally, and he knowingly violated the privacy of Doe and Roe. He tried to coerce Doe not to report him and denied he has a compulsion. He described his reasoning behind photographing his colleagues’ undergarments as, “It was dangerous and I suppose it was an adrenaline rush.”
We suspend Stansberry’s license to practice law in Iowa for an indefinite period with no possibility of reinstatement for one year from the date of filing of this opinion. The suspension applies to all facets of the practice of law. See Iowa Ct. R. 34.23(3). Stansberry must comply with the notification requirements of Iowa Court Rule 34.24. To establish his eligibility for reinstatement, Stansberry must file an application for reinstatement meeting all applicable requirements of Iowa Court Rule 34.25 and provide an evaluation from a licensed healthcare professional verifying his fitness to practice law.