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In re Dean

Supreme Court of Iowa

September 12, 2014

IN THE MATTER OF EMILY SUSAN DEAN, District Associate Court Judge

On application of the Iowa Commission on Judicial Qualifications. State commission on judicial qualifications filed application recommending three-month suspension of district associate judge.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Grant K. Dugdale and Kevin R. Cmelik, Assistant Attorneys General, for complainant.

Elaine F. Gray of Fehseke & Gray Law Offices, Fort Madison, for respondent.


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APPEL, Justice.

In this case, we consider a recommendation by the Iowa Commission on Judicial Qualifications (the Commission) to suspend a district associate judge for three months as a result of behavior related to alcohol consumption. The gravamen of the original complaint that triggered commencement of the proceeding was a report that the judge arrived at a courthouse in an intoxicated state and could not perform her scheduled judicial duties. For the reasons expressed below, we conclude that a suspension without pay should be imposed, but limit the suspension to thirty days.

I. Factual and Procedural Background.

A. The Precipitating Incident.

On May 9, 2012, the Commission received a complaint from a district court judge regarding District Associate Judge Emily Dean. The precipitating incident that gave rise to the complaint was the arrival of Judge Dean at the Henry County Courthouse that morning where she was said to be physically unable to take the bench. The complaint indicated reports that Judge Dean had been consuming alcohol prior to her arrival at the courthouse. The complaint also recited a history of Judge Dean's absence from work for health-related reasons presumed to be alcohol related. On May 10, the Commission entered an order suspending Judge Dean from her judicial duties pending investigation and action on the complaint.

B. Attorney General's Report to the Commission.

The attorney general's office conducted an investigation of the facts alleged in the complaint and issued a report, which was admitted as State's Exhibit 1 at the hearing. With respect to the incident on May 9, the attorney general's report indicated that Judge Dean had been drinking a colorless liquid and fell asleep in the car while being driven by her court reporter from Fort Madison to Mount Pleasant. Upon arriving at the courthouse, Judge Dean swayed and was unsteady. Her court reporter recognized that she was not in a condition to take the bench and obtained assistance from an employee in the county attorney's office to persuade Judge Dean not to take the bench and to leave the courthouse. Her court reporter drove her back to Fort Madison and contacted a family member. Later that day, she was hospitalized for severe alcohol intoxication. She remained in the hospital for three days. The attorney general's office interviewed the witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the incident. There was no suggestion in the report of inappropriate conduct on the part of Judge Dean on May 9, beyond her arrival at the courthouse in a state of intoxication.

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In a letter to the attorney general's office submitted pursuant to the investigation, Judge Dean began by admitting that she is an alcoholic and generally recounted her struggle with the disease, stating she initially addressed the problem locally through weekly substance abuse counseling and additional mental health counseling. She suffered a grand mal seizure in November 2011 as a result of alcohol withdrawal and participated in inpatient alcohol treatment at Hazelden in Center City, Minnesota, in December 2011. She stated that she attended a second inpatient treatment program at The Abbey in Bettendorf, Iowa, in April 2012. Upon further inquiry by the attorney general's investigator, however, Judge Dean admitted that she left both programs shortly before completion.

Judge Dean did not contest the basic facts surrounding the May 9 incident, although she stated she had " very little recollection of that morning." After leaving the courthouse, Judge Dean stated that her family took her to Great River Medical Center's emergency unit, where she was admitted into the intensive care unit. She remained hospitalized for three days. She characterized the May 9 event as " hitting bottom" in her struggle with alcoholism.

The report also noted other incidents of alcohol-related conduct. An assistant county attorney stated that in February and March of 2012, there were occasions when Judge Dean appeared " disoriented" and " disheveled." Additionally, the report described an incident in Fort Madison in which lawyers and litigants were assembled in the courtroom. According to the report, Judge Dean took the bench and stated, " Why are all of you here?" The report stated Judge Dean's court reporter called Judge Dean's father who arrived and escorted her from the courthouse.

The report further described other events. Judge Dean apparently decided to test a " panic button" to see if law enforcement would respond, which they did. Additionally, in May of 2012 a citizen filed a complaint alleging that a female driving Judge Dean's husband's car had urinated in a public street. The citizen followed the car to a destination that fit the description of Judge Dean's mother's residence. Judge Dean admitted she knew of the allegation, but could not remember what happened and could not deny it. No charges were filed.

The report also canvassed Judge Dean's recovery efforts after May 9. According to Hugh Grady of the Iowa Lawyers Assistance Program (ILAP), Judge Dean had made excellent progress in a twelve-step program. Judge Dean had also signed a contract to abide by all conditions imposed by ILAP, including monitoring by Mr. Grady, regular attendance at meetings with a sobriety support group, and preparation of a relapse plan. Mr. Grady and professionals at Great River Addiction Services did not recommend another round of inpatient treatment for Judge Dean.

C. Charges Brought by the Commission.

After the attorney general's investigation and subsequent report, the Commission filed a notice of charges against Judge Dean and set the matter for hearing. In the notice of charges, the Commission alleged that Judge Dean violated canon one and canon two of the Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct, including rule 51:1.2 and rule 51:2.5(A). See Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct Canons 1, 2; id. rs. 51:1.2, 51:2.5(A). First, the Commission charged that by appearing at the Henry County Courthouse while intoxicated, Judge Dean failed to avoid impropriety, raised doubt about her integrity, and eroded confidence in the judiciary. As a result, the Commission alleged a violation of rule 51:1.2, which

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requires judges to promote confidence in the judiciary. See Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct R. 51:1.2. Second, the Commission charged that by being intoxicated and unable to handle assigned cases on one or more occasions, Judge Dean failed to demonstrate the competence and diligence required in the performance of judicial duties. As a result, the Commission alleged a violation of rule ...

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