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Filing False Accusation with Police Is Grounds for Attorney Discipline

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From the Iowa Supreme Court’s opinion (written by Justice Dana Oxley) in Iowa Supreme Court Att’y Discip. Bd. v. Aeilts:

Honesty is the hallmark of the legal profession. It should go without saying that misrepresenting facts to a court and to law enforcement violates the rules of professional conduct Iowa attorneys take an oath to uphold. Attorney Andrew Aeilts appears before us after: receiving an OWI, falsely reporting a crime, and misrepresenting his professional experience during allocution to the court sentencing him on the resulting malicious prosecution charge in an effort to excuse his conduct…. [W]e suspend Aeilts’s license for six months….

The conduct bringing Aeilts to the Board’s attention began on August 21, 2018, when Randy Cornelison, the father of one of Aeilts’s clients, called Aeilts to complain about the lack of progress on his son’s custody case and to get his son’s retainer back. During the phone call, Cornelison told Aeilts he was going to file an ethics complaint against him. Later that day, Aeilts told Pella Police Officer Tim Donelson that Cornelison threatened to physically assault him during the telephone call. Aeilts requested that harassment charges be brought against Cornelison and sought a no-contact order. Donelson asked Aeilts if he had a recording of the conversation. Aeilts replied he did not but that he was not afraid to testify and informed Donelson that Cornelison had a criminal history.

Donelson contacted Cornelison during his investigation. Cornelison denied making any threats against Aeilts and provided a recording of the conversation as proof. At no point during the three-minute-and-thirty-two-second audio recording did Cornelison make any threats that he was going to physically assault or harm Aeilts. On October 1, Aeilts was charged with Malicious Prosecution in violation of Iowa Code section 720.6 and with False Report of an Indictable Offense to a Public Entity in violation of Iowa Code section 718.6(1) for his conduct related to pressing harassment charges against Cornelison.

[Details on the other grounds for discipline omitted. -EV]

Rule 32:8.4(b) prohibits a lawyer from “commit[ing] a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.” …

Aeilts … falsely subjected Cornelison to criminal charges for harassment based on his misrepresentations to Officer Donelson—charges Cornelison was able to avoid only because he had an audio recording of the phone call. Aeilts’s malicious attempt to send Cornelison to jail in an effort to prevent him from filing an ethics complaint against Aeilts displays his lack of honesty and reflects adversely on his fitness as a lawyer. His actions reveal a disrespect for the law and law enforcement….

Aeilts’s assertions that he did not know alleging a threat of bodily harm was an indictable offense and that he did not intend for Cornelison to be charged with an indictable offense are also without merit. After telling Officer Donelson about Cornelison’s alleged threats, he specifically “requested that harassment charges be brought against Cornelison.” Whether Aeilts was requesting a simple misdemeanor harassment charge or an indictable harassment charge, he still made misrepresentations to the police with potentially serious criminal consequences for Cornelison….

Under rule 32:8.4(d), “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.” … Here, Aeilts sought to have Cornelison prosecuted for harassment, having no reasonable grounds for believing he committed harassment; Aeilts’s report caused law enforcement and prosecutorial resources to be diverted in an investigation; and Aeilts’s conduct hampered the efficient and proper operation of the ancillary systems upon which the courts rely. We agree that as a result of this conduct, law enforcement and court resources were diverted in an unnecessary investigation of Aeilts’s charges against Cornelison. Aeilts’s conduct with regard to the Malicious Prosecution conviction violated rule 32:8.4(d)….

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