review of the report of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance
Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board filed a
complaint alleging the attorney violated the rule of
professional conduct regarding commission of a criminal act.
van Brederode and Crystal W. Rink, Des Moines, for
Johnathan Lee Sears, Ankeny, pro se.
Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board (Board)
charged an Iowa attorney with violations of Iowa Rule of
Professional Conduct 32:8.4(b) (commission of a criminal act)
in connection with convictions for operating while
intoxicated (OWI), domestic abuse assault causing bodily
injury, and several instances of violating a no-contact
order. After a hearing, the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance
Commission found the alleged violations had occurred and
recommended the attorney be suspended for one year without
the possibility of early reinstatement.
our de novo review, we conclude the attorney violated rule
32:8.4(b) as alleged in counts I, II, and III. We order that
his license be suspended indefinitely with no possibility of
reinstatement for two years.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
Sears is an attorney admitted to the Iowa bar in September of
2017. He is a partner at the Des Moines law firm of Clark
& Sears Law. Five months after his admittance, on
February 6, 2018, law enforcement located Sears on a highway
in Polk County pushing a heavily damaged, disabled vehicle.
Sears indicated he rear-ended an unknown vehicle; he did not
understand where he was or where the accident took place. Law
enforcement located an open bottle of vodka in the back seat
of Sears's car. After failing field sobriety tests, Sears
consented to a breath test, which returned a result of 0.181
blood alcohol concentration. He was then arrested for OWI in
violation of Iowa Code section 321J.2 (2018).
13, Sears pled guilty to OWI, first offense. The sentencing
court placed Sears on probation for one year. The terms of
Sears's probation prohibited alcohol use, forbade the
possession of firearms, and mandated compliance with state
and federal laws. The sentencing court also required Sears to
cooperate with and complete the recommendations of his
substance abuse evaluation. That evaluation recommended Sears
complete extended outpatient treatment and attend weekly
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. Sears failed to begin the
recommended treatment within thirty days of his sentencing
and, as a result, violated the sentencing court's order
with respect to the terms of his probation. This failure
prompted a September 24 order instructing Sears to obtain a
new substance abuse evaluation.
two weeks later, on October 7, West Des Moines police
received a 911 call from Jane Doe. The 911 call revealed a
panicked Doe explaining, "[M]y ex . . . is trying to
break in" and "he was here and he attacked me and
then I got him to leave, and then he came back." As it
turns out, Doe is Sears's former spouse. Apparently, Doe
and Sears divorced in May but remained intimate.
facts leading to the 911 call on October 7 are not disputed.
Doe and Sears spent that day at Doe's apartment. Doe did
not see Sears consume alcohol, but around 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.,
she could smell it on him. Doe was in her bedroom when she
heard Sears, who was in a different room, pull the slide on a
handgun she owned. Sears entered Doe's bedroom with the
handgun and asked how to disassemble it. Neither Doe nor
Sears could figure out how to disassemble the handgun, and
Sears left the bedroom with the gun. Worried about Sears, Doe
walked to the living room to speak with him. Sears then asked
Doe if he could use the handgun to kill himself. Doe refused.
point, Sears threw the handgun at Doe along with the
accompanying bullets. Doe collected the bullets, picked up
the handgun, proceeded to her bedroom, and hid the handgun
under her mattress. Sears entered the bedroom and asked for
the handgun, but Doe again refused. This refusal evidently
upset Sears. Sears proceeded to grab Doe's hair and slam
her to the ground. With her back against the ground, Sears
positioned his body on top of Doe, pinning her arms with his
legs. At this point, Sears slammed Doe's head against the
ground and screamed at her. Doe's head was slammed four
or five times and continued to such an extent that her vision
began to "black out." At this point, Doe relented
and told Sears the location of the handgun.
then left the bedroom with the handgun. He returned looking
for the bullets, and Doe was able to grab the handgun from
Sears. Eventually, Sears returned to the bedroom and
apologized to Doe. Doe told Sears to leave, and after asking
Sears multiple times, he left the apartment. Doe locked her
apartment door and returned to her bedroom. A short time
later, Doe heard Sears pounding on her apartment door, as
though he was "trying to break it open." In fact,
Doe testified Sears's pounding cracked her doorframe. At
this time, Doe called 911 because she was afraid Sears
"was going to break in and hurt [her]." During the
911 call, Sears left the apartment door for a moment, but
returned to Doe's door and continued to pound.
West Des Moines police officers were dispatched to Doe's
apartment complex at approximately 10:21 p.m. Officer Brandon
Condon was first on the scene and noticed a man walking out
of the complex. The man identified himself as John, and
Officer Condon observed that he had bloodshot, watery eyes;
slurred speech; a strong odor of alcoholic beverages; and
impaired balance. Officer Condon identified the man as Sears.
Upon questioning, Sears admitted to drinking alcohol that
night. Sears also admitted to Officer Condon that it was a
possibility someone was injured in a domestic fight. Sears
consented to a search of his cell phone. Officer Condon
viewed several text messages sent by Sears to his current
wife. The texts included the following content:
At 10:04:30 PM, Sears texted, "I'm drunk as
At 10:04:38 PM, Sears texted, "7 have I gun."
At 10:05:00 PM, Sears texted, "And I'm leaving her
At 10:05:37 PM, Sears texted, "Let this make you
At 10:06:31 PM, Sears texted, "I've assaulted
At 10:07:34 PM, Sears texted, "I've threatened to
kill myself. I can't so ...