Saturday, June 2, 2012

Prosecutor's suspension was unprecedented

A county prosecutor's monthlong suspension based on unproven allegations that he was unable to work was unwarranted and unprecedented and similar actions are unlikely to be taken against Iowa attorneys in the future, his lawyer said Friday.

Chief Justice Mark Cady suspended the law license of Appanoose County Attorney Richard Scott without a hearing on May 2 after an attorney disciplinary board warned that Scott's failure to do his job posed "a substantial threat of serious harm to the public" and was letting criminals walk free. Cady said Scott was unable to "discharge his professional responsibilities" and the suspension had to take effect immediately because of urgent circumstances that were not explained.

But after the Iowa Supreme Court held a hearing and heard evidence Tuesday, the court issued a decision Wednesday that lifted Scott's suspension and let him return to work under additional oversight for 90 days. The court said it was undisputed that Scott was not spending enough time on his official duties and that some criminal cases were dismissed as a result, but the disciplinary board failed to provide evidence that Scott couldn't work.

"They didn't present any evidence because there isn't any," Scott's lawyer, David L. Brown of Des Moines, said in an interview Friday. "There is no grounds to say he is in any way incapacitated, incompetent or impaired. He's very bright, very intelligent. He has no issues that impacts his ability to serve as an elected public official."

Brown said Scott, who'd been in office since 2008, acknowledged that he made mistakes juggling a heavy caseload as the only prosecutor in a small county with a high crime rate. He said Scott had already returned to his position and was determined to prevent similar mistakes and "be an even better county attorney."

The board claimed Scott had not tried a felony, drunken driving or aggravated misdemeanor case since he was appointed in 2008, reaching plea agreements or dismissing charges instead. It listed six misdemeanor cases that were dismissed because Scott wasn't available, including charges of assault, domestic abuse and trespassing. A seventh case involving a drug suspect was dismissed because Scott didn't file an indictment by the deadline, which resulted in the man sitting in jail for 126 days before being released.

The suspension for a "temporary disability" used against Scott is typically reserved for lawyers struggling with alcohol, drugs or mental illness. Observers can only remember one another time regulators used the provision against a county attorney, an official who turned out to have a brain injury several years ago.

Brown said regulators may have made an incorrect assumption after receiving an allegation against Scott from a local judge.

Regulator Charles Harrington said Wednesday the board acted in the public's interest and the factors behind Scott's subpar performance were somewhat of a mystery.

With Scott suspended, a judge had appointed neighboring Davis County Attorney Rick Lynch to oversee prosecutions in Appanoose County. Lynch will supervise Scott during his 90-day probationary period.

Brown said regulators would likely be more cautious before exercising their authority in the future.

"I would be very surprised if that process ever happens again. I couldn't help notice people saying this was an unusual case. Unusual? It's unprecedented. I think everybody might have learned something through that process," he said. "Procedurally, you can realize this was someone who isn't just an elected public official. He's a licensed member of the bar. As a consequence, he didn't really do anything for a month. As a practicing lawyer, he couldn't."

By The Associated Press

Source: The Muscatine Journal

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