review of the report of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance
commission recommends a suspension of an attorney's
license to practice law for violations of ethical rules.
van Brederode and Amanda K. Robinson, for complainant.
Christopher A. Clausen of Clausen Law Office, Ames, for
Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board (the Board)
brought a complaint against an attorney, alleging numerous
violations of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct. The
attorney stole a woman colleague's underpants from her
home, rifled through and photographed her undergarments in
her bedroom, and rifled through female colleagues' gym
bags at the office to photograph their undergarments, all for
his personal sexual gratification. A division of the Iowa
Supreme Court Grievance Commission (the commission) found the
attorney's conduct violated our ethical rules.
on the attorney's violation of our rules, the commission
recommended we suspend his license to practice law for not
less than ninety days. On our de novo review, we find the
attorney violated three provisions of our rules. However, we
disagree with the length of the recommended suspension. We
suspend the attorney's license to practice law
indefinitely with no possibility of reinstatement for one
year from the date of filing this opinion. We also find that
before reinstatement, the attorney must provide an evaluation
from a licensed healthcare professional verifying his fitness
to practice law.
Standard of Review.
review attorney disciplinary proceedings de novo. Iowa
Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Templeton, 784
N.W.2d 761, 764 (Iowa 2010). The Board has the burden of
proving ethical misconduct of the attorney by a convincing
preponderance of the evidence. Id. This burden is
less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but more than the
preponderance standard required in a civil case. Iowa
Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Conrad, 723
N.W.2d 791, 792 (Iowa 2006). While we give respectful
consideration to the commission's findings and
recommendations, they do not bind us. Iowa Supreme Ct.
Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Hoglan, 781 N.W.2d 279,
281 (Iowa 2010) (per curiam). We may impose a sanction
greater or lesser than the recommendation of the commission.
Findings of Facts.
record, we make the following findings of fact. Attorney
Benjamin Stansberry received his license to practice law in
Iowa in 2004. From 2010 until his resignation in 2016, he
worked as an assistant county attorney in the Marshall County
Attorney's Office. On August 22, 2016, Stansberry texted
his colleague Jane Doe and asked if he could stop by her home
with his three-year-old son. At the time, Stansberry was in a
supervisory role at the Marshall County Attorney's
Office, and Doe was an assistant county attorney under
Stansberry's supervision. Doe was mowing her lawn when
Stansberry arrived at her home.
asked Doe if he could use her restroom and if Doe could watch
his sleeping child who was in a stroller while he went
inside. Doe agreed and waited outside with Stansberry's
child. Stansberry was inside Doe's home for about five
minutes, then came outside and left with his child. Doe
continued doing yard work when she noticed a piece of cloth
lying in the middle of her driveway. She soon realized the
object was a pair of her underpants.
same evening, Doe reported the incident to her boss, Marshall
County Attorney Jennifer Miller. An investigation ensued, and
the county attorney's office put Stansberry on
administrative leave on August 23. When questioned by law
enforcement about his actions, Stansberry denied taking
anything from Doe's home, denied taking any photographs
in Doe's home, and denied deleting any photographs from
his mobile phone.
investigation, however, led to a search of Stansberry's
mobile phone. The search revealed Stansberry had deleted
photographs showing that he had entered Doe's bedroom and
photographed her undergarment drawer, he had entered
Doe's office and photographed undergarments in her gym
bag, and he had entered the office of another colleague-Jane
Roe-and photographed her undergarments in her gym bag as
well. Stansberry officially resigned from the county
attorney's office on August 26.
time he left the county attorney's office, Stansberry was
the counsel of record for the state in approximately 145
cases. Miller found Stansberry had not followed the office
protocol of note-taking and saving communications with
defense attorneys in the office's software database.
Thus, other county attorneys in the office spent considerable
time trying to assess the status of Stansberry's cases.
This resulted in dismissed charges because of missed
deadlines, upset victims, and significant additional work for
the county attorney's office and the district court
state charged Stansberry with theft in the fifth degree and
criminal trespass. Stansberry pled guilty to the charges and
paid a $65 fine. The court also entered a no-contact order,
with Doe as the protected party.
Roe both suffered mental and emotional trauma from
Stansberry's actions. The incident so affected Doe that
she resigned from her position at the Marshall County
District Attorney's Office, sold her home in
Marshalltown, and relocated to a different county.
August 30, Stansberry self-reported his criminal trespass and
theft charges to the Board. The Board filed a complaint on
September 27. Responding to the complaint, Stansberry
referenced the taking of the underpants, but failed to
reference the photographs law enforcement had recovered from
his mobile phone.
Board charged Stansberry with four violations of the Iowa
Rules of Professional Conduct: (1) rule 32:8.4(b) (criminal
conduct), (2) rule 32:8.4(c) (dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and
misrepresentation), (3) rule 32:8.4(g) (sexual harassment or
other unlawful discrimination), and (4) rule 32:8.4(d)
(conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice). At a
hearing before the commission, Stansberry did not deny his
conduct but argued he did not violate the ethical rules and
asked for a public reprimand. The Board asked the commission
to recommend a minimum sanction of license suspension for six
commission found Stansberry violated all four ethical rules.
It considered Stansberry's role as an assistant county
attorney, his attempt to "minimize, downplay, and place
blame elsewhere for his actions," and his lack of
understanding of how his actions affected the victims, as
aggravating factors. The commission found no mitigating
factors. The commission recommended Stansberry's license
to practice be suspended for a period of not less than ninety
did not appeal the findings of the commission. Under our
rules, if an attorney does not appeal the commission's
recommendations, we review the record made before the
commission de novo. Iowa Ct. R. 36.21(1). We will discuss
additional facts as needed in the violations and sanction
sections of this opinion.