from the Iowa District Court for Van Buren County, James M.
defendant challenges his removal from office as the Van Buren
County Attorney after the district court found he committed
willful misconduct or maladministration in office.
Alfredo Parrish, Gina Messamer, and John Maschman of Parrish
Kruidenier Dunn Boles Gribble Gentry Brown & Bergmann
L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, Jeffrey S. Thompson, Solicitor
General, and Julie S. Kim, Assistant Attorney General, for
Montgomery Brown of F.M. Brown Law Firm, P.L.L.C., West Des
Moines, Special Prosecutor, for appellee.
attorney removed from his elected position as Van Buren
County Attorney challenges the district court order for his
removal. Chapter 66 of the Iowa Code authorizes a district
court to remove "[a]ny appointive or elective officer,
except such as may be removed only by impeachment, holding
any public office in the state or in any division or
municipality thereof" in certain circumstances. Iowa
Code § 66.1A (2015). We must now decide whether an
elected county attorney was properly removed under this
statute for sexual harassment. For the reasons set forth
herein, we conclude that the conduct of the county attorney,
while deserving the disapproval it received from the district
court, did not rise to the level of misconduct that would
warrant the "drastic" and "penal" remedy
of a court order removing an elected official from office.
See State v. Callaway, 268 N.W.2d 841, 842 (Iowa
1978) (using these terms to characterize chapter 66). We
reverse the judgment of the district court and vacate the
order removing the defendant from the office of Van Buren
County Attorney. We remand the case for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion.
Facts and Procedural Background.
2013, Abraham Watkins was sworn into the Iowa bar and
subsequently opened a solo practice in Keosauqua, Iowa.
Watkins operated his law practice out of an office located on
the first floor or main level of the two-story home he shared
with his family. Watkins and his family mostly lived
upstairs. However, the home's kitchen, laundry room, and
one of the two bathrooms are located on the main level,
adjacent to the office area. Watkins's wife, Renee
Watkins, worked closely with her husband in the law office as
the office manager for his private practice. In September
2014, Watkins hired twenty-year-old Jasmin Wallingford as his
legal assistant. Two months later, Watkins was elected as the
Van Buren County Attorney after running as an independent,
and he assumed office on January 1, 2015.
Watkins's election as the Van Buren County Attorney,
which is a part-time position, Renee began to split her time
between serving as the office manager for her husband's
private practice and the victim coordinator for the county
attorney's office. Additionally, Wallingford began
working part-time for Watkins in the county attorney's
office, as well as part-time for him in his private law
office. Wallingford became close to the Watkins
family, even labeling herself an "honorary family
member." Wallingford and the Watkins family shared
personal details of their lives with each other. During this
time, Wallingford assisted Watkins and Renee with their young
daughters and socialized with them outside of the office.
These social events included out-of-town trips Wallingford
took with the family in which they visited waterparks and
stayed in hotels together.
on a recommendation from Chris Kauffman, a friend of Watkins,
Watkins hired Virginia Barchman as a part-time assistant
county attorney in April 2015. At the time, Barchman had been
retired for five years after a twenty-four-year career as an
attorney with the Iowa Attorney General's Office's
Area Prosecutions Division. Barchman began working in the
same first-floor office area shared by Watkins, Renee, and
Wallingford, though tensions arose between Watkins and
Barchman not long after Barchman's hiring. The pair
engaged in a number of intense arguments that made it
difficult for them to work together on cases.
between Watkins and Barchman continued to escalate in the
spring of 2016. Wallingford also began to look for other
employment beginning in the spring of 2016. After a
domestic-abuse trial that was held in the summer of 2016,
Barchman expressed her frustrations with Watkins by
criticizing his performance during the trial and accusing him
of "smelling like booze." In August, Barchman obtained
permission from the Van Buren County Board of Supervisors
(Board) to work in a different office space in the Van Buren
County courthouse due to issues she had with the noise in
Watkins's office and Watkins himself. She labeled this
new workspace an "Abe-free zone." Watkins soon
began seeking job applications for an assistant county
attorney, which Barchman interpreted to mean Watkins was
looking to replace her.
Watkins disputed that he had been drinking during the trial,
he clearly had an issue with alcohol abuse outside the
workplace. Renee grew tired of Watkins's drinking habits,
and the couple would constantly argue about their marital
issues in the office. Finally, on August 5, Renee and the
Watkinses' children left the home to visit Renee's
family in North Carolina because Renee was exasperated with
Watkins's drinking. As a result, Watkins contacted
Kauffman, who helped Watkins receive medical care for his
drinking issues. Watkins also contacted and met with Hugh
Grady from the Iowa Lawyers Assistance Program. Grady
recommended that Watkins immediately stop drinking, visit a
counselor, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and maintain
regular contact with him. Watkins took the necessary steps to
follow through with these recommendations, beginning with his
sobriety. Throughout these personal struggles during the
summer of 2016, both Watkins and Renee confided in
Wallingford for support.
August 9, Wallingford resigned from her positions with
Watkins. Wallingford stated in her resignation letter,
"I have learned many things in my time here, including
what makes a hostile work environment." As her reason
for leaving, she wrote, "Due to aberrant behavior and a
hostile work environment, I no longer can continue my
position and feel confident about coming into work."
Kauffman met with Wallingford around the time of her
resignation and encouraged her to write down all of her
complaints regarding Watkins. Wallingford prepared her list
in the week following her resignation. Barchman turned over
Wallingford's resignation letter to John Finney, the Van
Buren County Auditor, and contacted her former colleague
Scott Brown in the Iowa Attorney General's Office about
the resignation letter and Wallingford's complaints with
list totaled approximately fifty-five complaints about her
work with Watkins over the previous two years. The
overwhelming majority of her complaints involved her
frustration with the menial work tasks she was given and the
way they made her feel inferior to Watkins. These complaints
included "criticizing me in front of customers,"
"constant yelling between him [and] Renee,"
"the importance of him [and] not us," "my #1
job was to be there to answer the phone," and "[he]
very often expected me to figure [work] out then remind me I
didn't go to law school." While the majority of
Wallingford's complaints dealt with work assignments and
the lack of respect she felt she received, several of the
complaints involved conduct potentially amounting to sexual
reported that twice Watkins came down the stairs and entered
the office area to get coffee while wearing only athletic
shorts or boxer briefs in the early morning. On one of those
occasions, Wallingford laughed and Watkins walked over to her
desk. However, he did not stay long. According to
Wallingford, neither of these occurrences happened within six
months of the filing of the petition for removal.
another occasion, Watkins showed Wallingford two photographs
of his naked wife and a video Watkins made of an incident
where his wife accidentally squirted breast milk in
Wallingford's car. The display of the photographs and the
video occurred after work hours in the family kitchen while
the family and Wallingford were having dinner together. Renee
immediately objected to Watkins's display of the
photographs, and the incident in the family kitchen ended
upon her objection. Although the timing of this incident is
unclear, it did not occur within six months of the filing of
the petition for removal.
Watkins made several sexual comments to Wallingford. Some of
these occurred in the workplace. On one occasion, Watkins
told Wallingford that her "boobs [were] distracting
him." On another occasion, after seeing a particular
woman, Watkins told Wallingford, "Man, I wouldn't
want to see her naked." Watkins also complained to
Wallingford that his wife did not want to have sex and said
he wished he had a wife who wanted to have sex with him all
the time. On another occasion, Watkins made an inappropriate
sexual pun about the name of a cleaning product in the
presence of Wallingford and two women custodians. Wallingford
took this as a poor attempt at humor, and she knew that the
other women did not understand it.
birthday party for one of his daughters, which took place in
a park on a Saturday, Watkins commented to Kauffman about the
breasts of a courthouse employee. The following Monday,
Watkins attempted to bring up the subject again in front of
Renee and Wallingford. Renee cut him off and told Watkins she
did not want to hear about it.
different occasion, Wallingford was speaking with Renee about
Wallingford's visit to a gynecologist. Watkins overheard
this conversation and began to pester Wallingford about what
was wrong with her, at which point Renee made a comment along
the lines that Wallingford had a "broken vagina."
Watkins later asked Wallingford on another occasion whether
"her vagina was still broke." Finally, after Renee
left the family home with their daughters on August 5,
Watkins contacted Wallingford by telephone on Sunday night.
During the course of a long and wide-ranging discussion,
Watkins made the comment that he was glad he had kept nude
photographs of his old girlfriends.
noted above, Wallingford submitted her letter of resignation
on August 9. Wallingford subsequently attempted to retract
her resignation after Barchman informed her that she could
work with Barchman from an office in the old courthouse.
However, Wallingford was not rehired. She soon found
employment with the Van Buren County Sheriff's Office.
also witnessed some of the incidents described above. On one
occasion, Barchman saw what she believed to be Watkins
appearing downstairs in his underwear. She made her
objections to his behavior clear to Watkins, and there is no
indication that this ever happened again in her presence.
Further, Watkins used a crude sexual term as a nickname for a
particular female attorney in Barchman's presence. She
told Watkins that this was offensive to her, and she never
heard him use the expression again.
also asked Wallingford if her "vagina was still
broke" on one occasion when Barchman was present.
Moreover, Barchman saw a photograph of Watkins's wife
while she was pregnant, nude, and covered in blue paint on
Watkins's computer screen by accident when she went to
his office to discuss something with him.
could not recall hearing Watkins ever make a single
"come-on" line to any female employee or client.
Her initial complaints in July 2016 were about Watkins's
performance during the aforementioned domestic-abuse trial.
Her concerns at the time related to Watkins's alleged
drinking during the trial.
mid-August, Barchman forwarded Wallingford's letter of
resignation to Jon Swanson, the attorney for Van Buren
County. Swanson then notified the Board, which took steps to
investigate the allegations against Watkins. The Board held
two closed sessions to discuss the allegations and how to
handle them. After the first closed session, the Board
retained attorney Thomas H. Miller at the recommendation of
Swanson to conduct a formal investigation and advise the
Board on the best course of action.
is a former Iowa Assistant Attorney General who has
experience handling public-official misconduct. Miller was
also Barchman's supervisor when the two worked in the
Iowa Attorney General's Office. During his investigation,
Miller spoke to a number of individuals in Van Buren County
including Barchman, Wallingford, Kauffman, and the Van Buren
County Sheriff. Miller never spoke with Watkins or Renee as
part of his investigation. Further, Barchman incorrectly
reported to Swanson and Miller that Watkins refused to
cooperate with alcohol treatment recommendations made by
second closed session, Miller and the Board discussed the
results of his investigation. During this discussion, Miller
told the Board about possible ways to initiate removal
proceedings of Watkins under Iowa Code section 66.3. One
route included bringing the removal petition by five
registered voters of the county as specifically provided for
in section 66.3(3). Despite the existence of this method to
initiate the proceedings, Miller advised the Board that
through "a little bit of legal wrangling," the
Board could initiate the removal proceedings by appointing an
acting county attorney under Iowa Code section 331.754(4) and
the acting county attorney would then be authorized to
initiate the action to remove the elected county attorney.
The Board decided to proceed on this basis.
reasons that are not apparent from this record, Miller did
not contact the Iowa Attorney General's Office to have it
initiate the removal action as specifically authorized by
Iowa Code section 66.3(1). This is the method most often used
in removal actions. Rather, upon Miller's recommendation,
the Board retained attorney F. Montgomery Brown as acting
county attorney and authorized him to initiate the removal
action utilizing the procedure outlined above.
Brown met with Watkins and learned he would not resign
voluntarily, Brown filed the petition to remove Watkins from
office pursuant to Iowa Code sections 66.11 and 331.754(4) on
September 29. Once Brown filed the removal proceedings, the
district court appointed him to appear on the State's
behalf and prosecute Watkins's removal proceedings
pursuant to Iowa Code section 66.12.
final amended petition, the State sought removal of Watkins
on five separate grounds. Four involved allegations that
Watkins engaged in "willful misconduct or
maladministration in office" in violation of Iowa Code
section 66.1A(2) by (1) creating a "hostile work
environment" that included sexual harassment, (2)
supplying a minor with alcohol in violation of Iowa Code
sections 123.47(1) and 123.47(2)(a), (3)
retaliation, and (4) accepting three private-practice cases
that created conflicts of interest with his position as
county attorney. The petition also sought Watkins's
removal on the ground that he had been intoxicated in
violation of Iowa Code section 66.1A(6).
filed a motion to dismiss the removal petition. The motion
urged that the Board did not have the power to initiate a
removal action under Iowa Code section 66.3, nor could the
Board empower Brown to prosecute the action under Iowa Code
section 331.754(4). Additionally, Watkins claimed a breach of
contract by the county. Watkins alleged his signature on the
Van Buren County Employee Handbook and consideration in the
form of legal services and compliance with the county's
rules created a binding contract. Watkins further claimed the
county breached this contract when it did not "promptly
name an impartial investigator" as provided for in the
handbook. Watkins cited Miller's former working
relationship and friendship with Barchman. Moreover, Watkins
argued the Board violated the handbook's employment
policy of progressive discipline by initiating termination
before taking other, less drastic measures.
October 28, the district court denied Watkins's motion to
dismiss. The district court ruled the Board had the authority
to appoint an attorney under Iowa Code section 331.754(4) to
act as county attorney when the elected county attorney had a
conflict of interest. The district court ruled that Watkins
had an "obvious" conflict of interest in this civil
proceeding. The district court reasoned that Brown, as the
lawfully appointed acting county attorney on the matter, had
the same authority over the matter for which he was appointed
under Iowa Code section 331.754(4) as the elected county
attorney. Thus, the district court found that Brown was
considered a county attorney for purposes of Iowa Code
on the petition for removal commenced on October 31 and
continued sporadically over the next several months with
final submission of evidence occurring on December 22. On
January 3, 2017, the district court issued its Order for
Removal from Office. The district court ordered Watkins's
removal from the office of Van Buren County Attorney solely
based on the sexual-harassment claim. In reaching its
decision, the district court found a "significant
contrast between the recollections of the State's
witnesses versus the recollections of Mr. Watkins; his wife;
and current employee, Ms. Richardson." The district
court found the State's witnesses more credible and
considered their testimony to be truthful because nothing
indicated the witnesses fabricated their testimony or had a
substantial personal interest in the outcome in comparison to
Watkins's witnesses, who, the district court noted, were
not eager to testify.
addition to the aforementioned complaints from Wallingford
and Barchman, the district court also took into account
testimony from Tayt Waibel and Kauffman. The district court
found the testimony of Waibel, who had worked for Watkins in
his private law office, to be truthful. Her testimony
recounted inappropriate sexually charged remarks made by
Watkins. One of those comments was directed at Waibel
personally and occurred on a weekend after Watkins was served
with removal papers. After making the inappropriate
statement, Watkins acknowledged, "This is probably why
I'm in trouble for sexual harassment." Moreover, the
district court relied on testimony from Kauffman, who
testified that Watkins liked to talk about sex, frequently
offered to show him naked pictures of his wife, and once
commented on the breasts of a courthouse employee.
decision to remove Watkins from office, the district court
During his tenure as County Attorney, Mr. Watkins has engaged
in a pattern of conduct that is unacceptable by any
reasonable standard. Many people, probably most, would
consider much of his conduct to be outrageous or even
shocking. The fact that Mr. Watkins is an attorney trained in
the law makes his behavior all the more troublesome.
Iowa's Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys
recognize that lawyers holding public office assume legal
responsibilities going beyond those of other citizens. A
lawyer's abuse of public office can suggest an inability
to fulfill the professional role of a lawyer. I.R.P.C. 32:8.4
The State has proven that Mr. Watkins has engaged in
misconduct or maladministration by regularly committing
sexual harassment. The bigger question is whether his
conduct was willful, which requires proof that he acted
intentionally with a purpose to do wrong. . . .
. . . Mr. Watkins's inappropriate conduct was pervasive
and existed over a significant period of time thereby
negating any claim of mistake or an isolated lapse of
judgment. His actions were clearly intentional. As a lawyer
he knew better but continued to subject his two young female
employees to sexually related banter, and in some instances
images, that have no place in the work setting. This is
especially true for a county attorney's office. Given the
extent and stunning nature of his conduct one can, and in the
Court's opinion must, infer that he was acting with a bad
or evil purpose. Therefore, the State has established that
his conduct was willful.
State withdrew its retaliation claim at closing, conceding
that it failed to prove Watkins retaliated against Barchman.
The district court did not further address the retaliation
allegation or the State's claim that Watkins supplied a
minor with alcohol in violation of Iowa Code sections
123.47(2)(a) and 123.47(5). Additionally, the court made no
findings of fact regarding the allegations that Watkins
committed willful misconduct or maladministration in office
based on the conflicts-of-interest claim against him, finding
instead that none of the allegations justified Watkins's
removal. The district court also found insufficient evidence
to establish the State's intoxication allegation, noting
that "substantial evidence," including the
testimony of the presiding judge at the trial, established
that Watkins was not intoxicated in court. The district
court also did not make any findings regarding the
Board's alleged breach of the handbook or the conflicts
of the Board members who helped initiate the removal
proceedings. Additional facts will be included within our
following analysis. Watkins timely filed an appeal, which we
Standard of Review.
standard of review for rulings on questions of statutory
interpretation is for correction of errors at law. State
v. Iowa Dist. Ct., 889 N.W.2d 467, 470 (Iowa 2017). In
removal proceedings, the State bears the burden of proof to
establish that the public official committed the charged acts
of misconduct or maladministration in office with
"willful intent to do wrong [and] an evil purpose upon
the part of the accused, . . . by clear, convincing,
satisfactory evidence." State ex rel. Crowder v.
Smith, 232 Iowa 254, 255, 4 N.W.2d 267, 268 (1942). This
standard requires the State to establish the facts "by
more than a preponderance of evidence, but something less
than establishing a factual situation beyond a reasonable
doubt." State v. Bartz, 224 N.W.2d 632, 638
determining whether the State has met this burden, we review
the evidence submitted in a removal proceeding de novo.
Callaway, 268 N.W.2d at 842.
There is essentially but one question before us as triers
[d]e novo on this appeal: Does the record compiled below
contain sufficient evidence of misconduct on the part of
[the] defendant[ ] . . . as [an] elected public official[ ]
to necessitate [his] removal from office under the provisions
of Chapter 66.
Bartz, 224 N.W.2d at 634. To answer this question,
we give the trial court's findings weight "but
nonetheless assume the responsibility of reviewing the entire
record in determining the case anew on appeal."
presents a number of issues on appeal. First, Watkins
challenges the manner in which the removal action was
initiated. Second, Watkins disputes the district court's
determination that his conduct amounted to willful misconduct
or maladministration in office. See Iowa Code §
66.1A(2). Third, Watkins contends the district court should
have dismissed the removal action because Van Buren County
did not retain an impartial investigator to investigate the
allegations of sexual harassment as promised in the employee
handbook. Fourth, he asserts the district court should have
dismissed the removal action because it was tainted by a
conflict of interest. Fifth, Watkins claims the district
court should have dismissed the removal action because the
Board failed to implement the progressive disciplinary
procedures set forth in the handbook before initiating the
removal process. Finally, Watkins argues he is entitled to
attorney's fees on the dismissed grounds for removal.
The Initiation of Removal Proceedings.
contends the district court erred when it denied his motion
to dismiss the removal action against him because the Board
unlawfully initiated the removal proceedings. He maintains
that the Board could not empower an acting county attorney
appointed under Iowa Code section 331.754(4) to initiate
removal proceedings because only the elected county attorney
or attorney general may initiate removal proceedings as the
sole complainant under Iowa Code section 66.3. Watkins also
argues allowing the Board to appoint an acting county
attorney to prosecute the removal proceedings under section
331.754(4) would render the special-prosecutor provision of
section 66.12 superfluous. We begin our analysis by reviewing
the relevant statutes regarding removal and the appointment
of an acting county attorney.
Code section 331.754(4) provides, "The board may appoint
an attorney to act as county attorney in a civil proceeding
if the county attorney and all assistant county attorneys are
disqualified because of a conflict of interest from
performing duties and conducting official business."
Iowa Code § 331.754(4). Iowa Code section 66.3 is
specific to removal and states the following:
The petition for removal may be filed:
1. By the attorney general in all cases.
2. As to state officers, by not fewer than twenty-five
electors of the state.
3. As to any other officer, by five registered voters of the
district, county, or municipality where the duties of the
office are to be performed.
4. As to district officers, by the county attorney of any
county in the district.
5. As to all county and municipal officers, by the county
attorney of the county where the duties of the office are to
Id. § 66.3. Finally, Iowa Code section 66.12
states, "When the proceeding is brought to remove the
county attorney, the court may appoint an attorney to appear
in behalf of the state and prosecute such proceedings."
Id. § 66.12.
in Iowa Code section 66.3 distinguishes between elected and
acting county attorneys. "When a proposed interpretation
of a statute would require the court to 'read something
into the law that is not apparent from the words chosen by
the legislature,' the court will reject it."
State v. Iowa Dist. Ct., 730 N.W.2d 677, 679 (Iowa
2007) (quoting State v. Guzman-Juarez, 591
N.W.2d 1, 2 (Iowa 1999)). Still, incorporating section
331.754(4) into section 66.3 could potentially allow a county
board of supervisors to circumvent the limits of section 66.3
since "county boards of supervisors" are not among
the entities authorized to bring removal petitions.
See Iowa Code § 66.3. Nonetheless, in this case
we do not have merely the Board's action appointing Brown
pursuant to section 331.754(4). The district court also
appointed Brown pursuant to section 66.12. Therefore, without
deciding whether Brown would have had authority to pursue the
removal action if the court had not appointed him
under section 66.12, we decline Watkins's request to hold
the removal petition should have been dismissed based on lack
Removal from Office.
Code section 66.1A states,
Any appointive or elective officer, except such as may be
removed only by impeachment, holding any public office in the
state or in any division or municipality thereof, may be
removed from office by the district court for any of the
1. For willful or habitual neglect or refusal to perform the
duties of the office.
2. For willful misconduct or maladministration in office.
3. For corruption.
4. For extortion.
5. Upon conviction of a felony.
6. For intoxication, or upon conviction of being intoxicated.
7. Upon conviction of violating the provisions of chapter
Iowa Code § 66.1A. "A proceeding to remove a public
officer under this statute is a drastic one and is penal or
quasi-criminal in character." City of Des Moines v.
Dist. Ct., 241 Iowa 256, 262, 41 N.W.2d 36, 39 (1950).
"Removal is drastic and penal." Callaway,
268 N.W.2d at 842. "The object 'is to rid the
community of a corrupt, incapable or unworthy
official.'" Id. (quoting State v.
Welsh, 109 Iowa 19, 21, 79 N.W. 369, 370 (1899)).
"[T]he remedy provided by statute for the removal of
duly elected public officials is heroic in nature and
relatively drastic in a system where the usual method of
removing officeholders is by resort to the ballot."
Bartz, 224 N.W.2d at 638.
previously emphasized the summary and expedited nature of
removal and noted that it "implement[s] a legislative
intent that a public officer guilty of willful misconduct or
maladministration be removed during the same term of office
in which the conduct occurred that provided grounds for
removal." State ex rel. Doyle v. Benda, 319
N.W.2d 264, 266 (Iowa 1982). Essentially, removal proceedings
exist to provide a remedy when the misconduct is serious
enough that waiting until the next election is inadequate.
See id. (noting that removal proceedings are
designed to occur before the next election and are mooted if
the official is voted out of office or reelected with
knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing). They are meant to
protect public interests, and those interests are imperiled
when a public official's "administration of the
office is marked by such grave misconduct or such flagrant
incompetency as demonstrates his unfitness for the
position." State ex rel. Barker v. Meek, 148
Iowa 671, 680, 127 N.W. 1023, 1026 (1910).
State bears the burden of proof in removal proceedings to
establish the alleged wrongdoer's "willful intent to
do wrong [and] an evil purpose upon the part of the accused,
. . . by clear, convincing, satisfactory evidence."
Smith, 232 Iowa at 255, 4 N.W.2d at 268. This
standard of proof is defined as "the establishment of
facts by more than a preponderance of the evidence, but
something less than establishing a factual situation beyond a
reasonable doubt." Bartz, 224 N.W.2d at 638.
Moreover, with regard to section 66.1A(2), the phrase
"in office" modifies both "willful
misconduct" and "maladministration," so the
State bears the additional burden of showing by clear,
convincing, and satisfactory evidence that the alleged
wrongdoer's acts were committed within the scope of his
or her official responsibilities. See, e.g.,
State ex rel. Gebrink v. Hospers, 147 Iowa 712, 714,
126 N.W. 818, 819 (1910) (noting removal "should be
exercised only in cases of official wrongdoing established by
clear and satisfactory evidence"). Therefore, the
public official's alleged wrongdoing must take place
within his or her capacity as a public official and not when
the official was acting as a private citizen.
have noted, the district court removed Watkins from office
for sexual harassment, either rejecting or not reaching the
other grounds. The State does not argue on appeal that any of
those other grounds should have been sustained. Thus, our
sole duty on appeal is to decide whether the allegations of
sexual harassment are such as to constitute willful
misconduct or maladministration in office warranting removal
Defining "willful misconduct or
We have defined "willfully" in the removal context
to mean that the public official must act
"intentionally, deliberately, with a bad or evil
purpose, contrary to known duty." State v.
Roth, 162 Iowa 638, 651, 144 N.W. 339, 344 (1913). In
the removal context, "[c]onduct may be voluntary,
thoughtless, or even reckless, yet not necessarily willful.
Nor does unlawfulness necessarily imply willfulness."
Meek, 148 Iowa at 674, 127 N.W. at 1024 (citation
routinely applied a subjective-intent standard to examine the
public official's purpose when he or she engaged in the
charged acts to determine whether the official intentionally
and deliberately committed those acts. For example, in
Roth, we held that the removal of a mayor and chief
of police was improper based on claims that they were
"willfully" neglecting to prevent baseball from
being played on Sundays when such activity may or may not
have been illegal on the Sabbath day. 162 Iowa at 651, 144
N.W. at 344. In doing so, we examined the subjective intent
of the public officials, noting that the city officials were
acting in good faith based on their uncertainty of the law at
issue rather than neglecting to enforce it. Id.
in State ex rel. Cochran v. Zeigler, we held the
state failed to demonstrate willful misconduct in office to
justify the removal of a mayor based on allegations that the
mayor violated the law by having an interest in contracts for
goods or services to be furnished or performed for the city.
199 Iowa 392, 397, 202 N.W. 94, 96 (1925). We reached this
conclusion based on the lack of evidence in the record
"to indicate a corrupt purpose upon the part of [the
mayor], or that fraud or imposition was practiced upon the
city." Id. Moreover, in State v.
Manning, we held the state failed to show public
officials acted willfully to justify their removal for
willful and habitual neglect, maladministration, and
corruption in office because we could not find a
"purpose, on the part of said officials in what they
did, to harm, or which was inimical to the interests of such
city." 220 Iowa 525, 528, 259 N.W. 213, 215-16 (1935).
it is not a question of whether a reasonable person would
find that the public official acted contrary to his or her
duties or even unlawfully. Nor is it a question of how
outrageous or inappropriate the public official's conduct
is perceived by our court or others in the community. Rather,
the first issue before us hinges on the public official's
subjective intent to act with a bad or evil purpose to commit
his or her charged acts of wrongdoing contrary to a known
addition to the public official's subjective intent at
the time of the charged misconduct or maladministration, we
must also discern whether the public official acted contrary
to a known duty when he or she engaged in these acts. See
Roth, 162 Iowa at 651, 144 N.W. at 344. More
specifically, we have held that removal "should be
exercised only in cases of official wrongdoing established by
clear and satisfactory evidence." Hospers, 147
at 714, 126 N.W. at 819. To illustrate, in Callaway,
we found willful misconduct or maladministration in office to
justify removal where a sheriff repeatedly assaulted
prisoners without justification by kicking, striking, and
punching them, spraying them in the face with mace, and
kneeing them in the groin. 268 N.W.2d at 843-47, 848. In
reaching this decision, we noted the sheriff's treatment
of the prisoners violated various laws, including his legal
duty "to protect prisoners from insult and
annoyance." Id. at 847. Likewise, we ...