Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Iowa Supreme Court

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The Iowa District Court for Story County issued an order appointing the local public defender of Nevada, Iowa to represent a juvenile, who had been detained. The public defender filed a motion to withdraw, citing conflicts of interest between the juvenile and other clients. After a detention hearing, the court ordered the juvenile’s transfer from detention to shelter care and then withdrew the local defender’s appointment and appointed new conflict-free counsel for the juvenile. The court subsequently taxed to the state public defender the court and travel costs related to the hearing for withdrawing from the representation of the juvenile prior to the hearing without first taking steps to secure alternative representation for the juvenile. The state public defender filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court, claiming that the district court acted illegally when it taxed the court and travel costs against the state public defender. The Supreme Court sustained the writ, holding that the district court exceeded its authority and made an error of law in determining that the state public defender or the local public defender violated either statutory or ethical duties under the circumstances of this case. View "State Public Defender v. Iowa District Court" on Justia Law

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The Iowa Commission on Judicial Qualifications recommended that a magistrate, who maintained a website where he posted information regarding his availability to perform marriage ceremonies - for a fee - at locations other than the courthouse, be publicly reprimanded for violating the Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct. Some of the photos showed the magistrate wearing his judicial robes. Before the matter was submitted to the Supreme Court, the magistrate resigned. The Supreme Court concluded that the magistrate committed violations of Canon 1 and Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct Rules 51:1.2 and 51:1.3, holding that the code does not per se bar a judicial officer from publicizing his availability to perform marriage ceremonies but that some aspects of the advertising at issue in this case violated the code. View "In re James H. Martinek" on Justia Law

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The Iowa Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed an application for discipline of a judicial officer recommending the Supreme Court publicly reprimand district court judge Mary E. Howes, Seventh Judicial District. Judge Howes petitioned for dissolution of her marriage to her husband, Jack Henderkott, in June 2011. In 2013, Henderkott sent Judge Howes an email indicating the Internal Revenue Service had deducted $3192 from his 2012 income tax return because she did not claim income she received from liquidating an individual retirement account on the couple’s 2010 joint income tax return. Henderkott claimed he was entitled to reimbursement in the full amount of the deduction per the terms of the settlement agreement. Judge Howes retained a "Ms. Pauly" to assist with her dissolution of marriage, but different counsel for the lingering tax dispute with her ex-husband. Ms. Pauly represented a different client before Judge Howes on a family law matter. Ms. Pauly's client became "distraught" upon hearing that the lawyer representing the client's husband was representing the very judge who had signed an order granting a temporary injunction in the client's case. A complaint against Judge Howes was subsequently filed. Because the Supreme Court concluded the judge violated the Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct, it granted the application for judicial discipline. Rather than publicly reprimand the judge, however, the Court publicly admonished the judge. View "In the matter of Honorable Mary E. Howes" on Justia Law

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Attorney Larry Stoller filed a multicount petition on behalf of NuStar Farms, LLC against Robert and Marcia Zylstra, alleging that the Zylstras agreed to sell NuStar a parcel of farmland but failed to tender the requisite deed and that the Zylstras did not abide by certain terms contained in certain manure easement agreements. The Zylstras filed a motion seeking to disqualify Stoller as the attorney for NuStar based on a conflict of interest. Specifically, the Zylstras alleged that Stoller’s representation of NuStar was a concurrent conflict of interest with his representation of them. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court (1) did not abuse its discretion in holding that Stoller could not be disqualified under the substantial relationship test; but (2) abused its discretion in not disqualifying Stoller from representing NuStar in the action because Stoller did have a concurrent conflict of interest. View "NuStar Farms, LLC v. Zylstra" on Justia Law

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The Iowa Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed an application for imposition of discipline against Joseph Sevcik, a part-time magistrate who also practiced law. The Commission found Magistrate Sevcik violated two of the canons of judicial conduct by requesting and receiving two confidential court files from a clerk of court and then using one of the files during his cross-examination of a witness in a hearing before the district court in which he represented a party in the case. The Supreme Court held that Magistrate Sevcik violated Canons 1 and 3 of the Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct, along with Rules 51:1.2 and 51:3.5, and agreed with the Commission that a public reprimand was the appropriate sanction. View "In re Inquiry Concerning Joseph Sevcik" on Justia Law

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The Iowa Commission on Judicial Qualifications recommended that a magistrate, who had a private practice in addition to his work on the bench, be publicly reprimanded for placing advertisements in phone books featuring his photograph in his judicial robes. The Supreme Court granted the application of the commission, finding that the magistrate violated the provisions of the Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct by attempting to influence potential clients to use his services as an attorney by using his office as an indicator of his trustworthy and responsible nature. The Court then concluded that a public reprimand was the appropriate sanction. View "In re Meldrum" on Justia Law

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Appellant, an ALJ within the Iowa Department of Corrections (IDOC), presided over the hearing of an inmate charged with assaulting a corrections officer. Appellant found the inmate guilty of assault. The Office of Citizens' Aide/Ombudsman (Ombudsman) subsequently launched an investigation into Appellant's ruling and subpoenaed her for deposition testimony. Appellant argued that she could assert the mental-process privilege in refusing to answer questions about her decision. The Ombudsman filed an action to enforce the subpoena. The district court ruled the mental-process privilege would not apply to limit deposition testimony in the Ombudsman's investigation, as opposed to a judicial proceeding, and entered an order compelling Appellant's deposition. Appellant and IDOC appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed but on different grounds, holding (1) the mental-process privilege is available to IDOC ALJs in an Ombudsman investigation; but (2) the Ombudsman made a sufficient showing to overcome the privilege. View "Office of Citizens' Aide/Ombudsman v. Edwards" on Justia Law

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The Iowa Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed an application for imposition of discipline against Daniel Block, an associate juvenile court judge, for conduct that resulted in his arrest for the crime of operating while intoxicated, first offense. The Commission found Block violated the Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct and recommended he be publicly reprimanded. The Supreme Court granted the application, concluding (2) the conduct of the judge amounted to a substantial violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct; (2) the impact of the conduct as a whole was enough to adversely impact the public confidence in the judiciary; and (3) the appropriate discipline for the unethical conduct in this matter was a reprimand. View "In re Block" on Justia Law