IN THE MATTER OF CLARENCE B. MELDRUM, JR., Judicial Magistrate.
On application of the Iowa Commission on Judicial Qualifications.
The Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed an application to discipline a magistrate.
Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Scott D. Brown and Kevin R. Cmelik, Assistant Attorneys General, for complainant.
John M. French of Law Offices of John M. French, Council Bluffs, for respondent.
The Iowa Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed an application in this court recommending a magistrate be publicly reprimanded for publishing an advertisement for his services as a private attorney in which he wore his judicial robes and referred to his position as a magistrate. We find the magistrate violated the Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct and grant the application. We agree the appropriate discipline in this matter is a public reprimand.
I. Background Facts and Prior Proceedings.
Clarence B. Meldrum, Jr., is a magistrate in Pottawattamie County. He has been a licensed attorney in Iowa for forty-one years. He has been a magistrate since 1993. As a judicial officer, Magistrate Meldrum handled criminal matters, municipal infractions, small claims matters, and matters involving mental health and substance abuse. Since the mid-1990s, he has limited his law practice to bankruptcy, probate, real estate, and tax matters, purportedly to avoid conflict with his position as a magistrate.
In addition to his work in private practice and on the bench, Magistrate Meldrum has served as president of the Pottawattamie County Bar Association, president of the magistrate judges' association, on the board of Legal Services Corporation of Iowa (which is now Iowa Legal Aid), on the policy advisory committee of the legal aid office for the fourth judicial district, and as a volunteer with the Volunteer Lawyer Project. Meldrum received the meritorious service award as a magistrate in 2007, awarded in recognition of his service to the public.
Beginning in 2009, Magistrate Meldrum placed advertisements in phone books circulating in and around Council Bluffs. Both advertisements featured a photograph of Magistrate Meldrum in his judicial robes. The photograph was taken by the Pottawattamie County Bar Association in 2005 and had previously appeared in a composite photograph hanging in the county courthouse. One of the advertisements also noted his position as an "Iowa Judicial Magistrate." On December 8, 2011, the Commission on Judicial Qualifications charged Magistrate Meldrum with a substantial violation of Canon 1 of the Iowa Judicial Code of Conduct, including rules 51:1.2 and 51:1.3, for abusing the prestige of his judicial office to advance his personal economic interests and for failing to promote the public confidence in the judiciary.
At a hearing on February 1, 2012, when asked about his intent in placing the advertisements, Magistrate Meldrum replied that he wanted to communicate his level of responsibility to potential clients, but that it was not his intent to use the prestige of his judicial office for personal gain or to obtain favorable treatment. He stated:
My intention in preparing the ad was to communicate to the public in a permissible manner my availability as a private attorney for private legal services, and it was my intention by using the title of magistrate and the photograph in the robes to indicate that I did hold a responsible public position and that I was a reliable attorney with 40 years' practice experience. There was never any intention to indicate that by virtue of my position as a magistrate I could pull any strings, make things happen for people that shouldn't happen.
When asked if he was attempting to use his position as a magistrate to attract clients, Magistrate Meldrum stated:
Only in the sense that I felt that being a member of the judiciary, and specifically an Iowa Judicial Magistrate, lent credence to my professionalism and my qualifications to represent people. I never intended to indicate that I could use my position as a ...