Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Deremiah, 15–1917.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Citation875 N.W.2d 728
Docket NumberNo. 15–1917.,15–1917.
Decision Date26 February 2016

875 N.W.2d 728

Jamie F. DEREMIAH, Respondent.

No. 15–1917.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Feb. 26, 2016.

875 N.W.2d 729

Tara M. van Brederode and Susan A. Wendel, Des Moines, for complainant.

F. Montgomery Brown of F.M. Brown Law Firm, P.L.L.C., West Des Moines, for respondent.

APPEL, Justice.

In this disciplinary case, the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board charged the respondent, Jamie F. Deremiah, with violations of Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:8.4(b) (stating it is professional misconduct to "commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on a lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer") in connection with a domestic assault on Jane Doe. After a hearing, the majority of the Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa (commission) recommended a thirty-day suspension of the respondent's license; a two-year probationary period, with conditions related to maintaining his sobriety; and medical documentation showing his compliance with treatment providers' recommendations. One member of the commission dissented on the sanction, recommending instead a ninety-day suspension. A second commission member also dissented on the sanction but recommended a public reprimand.

For the reasons expressed below, we conclude that the respondent violated Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:8.4(b). We suspend the respondent's license to practice law indefinitely with no possibility of reinstatement for three months and impose conditions upon any application for reinstatement.

I. Factual and Procedural Background.

A. Factual Findings. Most of the facts are not disputed. Witnesses at the hearing before the commission included

875 N.W.2d 730

police officers and a county attorney with knowledge related to the underlying criminal case, persons engaged in Deremiah's treatment for alcoholism, and Deremiah himself. Based on our review of the entire record, we make the following findings of fact.

Deremiah began drinking alcohol at an early age and had a number of alcohol-related incidents prior to becoming a lawyer. Specifically, he had "two or three" citations for possession of alcohol and one incident of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OWI) while attending college but prior to attending law school. He had no involvement with the criminal justice system for alcohol-related offenses until the recent events described in this opinion.

Deremiah graduated from law school in 2008 and is licensed to practice law in Iowa. He practiced in a number of professional settings for relatively short periods of time. One firm terminated Deremiah for what he described as alcohol-related absences.

Deremiah is currently employed as "of counsel" with a Des Moines metropolitan area law office. He practices primarily in the areas of criminal and family law. Under his arrangement with the law office, he retains fifty percent of his billings collected from clients.

Deremiah and Doe knew each other in high school but began dating only after meeting at a bar several years ago. During the course of their relationship, they maintained separate residences, but they usually slept together in the evening. Doe gave Deremiah a set of keys to her home, where she lived with her ten-year-old daughter.

The relationship, however, was marked by jealousy and allegations of infidelity. In April 2014, Des Moines police responded to a domestic incident at Doe's home. The facts of this incident were not thoroughly developed at the hearing, but police were apparently called to Doe's home after a jealous and intoxicated Deremiah burned some of Doe's DVDs and refused to leave the residence. Police who arrived at the scene called a cab to transport Deremiah home. At this point, Doe retrieved the keys to her residence from Deremiah.

The April 2014 event was a precursor for the events that gave rise to this disciplinary proceeding. Deremiah and Doe had been drinking at various Des Moines bars on the night of July 25, 2014. An argument ensued at one of the locations, resulting in Deremiah and Doe going their separate ways. After the altercation, Deremiah went to Doe's home and broke in the front door, causing damage to the door. Doe, however, was not at home. Deremiah then left the Doe residence.

Deremiah later returned to the residence. This time Doe was at home. Deremiah asserts he suffered from an alcohol-related blackout and does not remember what happened next. Similarly, Doe's memory of the event is cloudy. Nonetheless, the record establishes that Deremiah assaulted Doe in her bedroom. He punched Doe in the face multiple times, causing facial swelling and bruising to her eyes. Her left eye soon became swollen shut. According to a police officer who responded to the reported domestic assault, "I thought it was a broken eye socket because it was so swollen." Deremiah also pulled Doe's hair, leaving a clump of hair in the bedroom where the assault occurred. After the assault, Deremiah called his father who picked him up and drove him to his home, where Deremiah was also living at the time.

Doe called 911 in the early morning hours of July 26. After interviewing her and investigating the scene, the police took

875 N.W.2d 731

photographs of Doe's injuries, the clump of hair in the bedroom, and the damage to the door. Police noted that Doe was distraught. After completing their investigation at the scene, police traveled to Deremiah's father's home and, after Deremiah admitted he had been with Doe the previous evening, he was arrested. The district court entered a no-contact order following Deremiah's arrest.

The state charged Deremiah with two crimes. In Count I, the state charged him with domestic abuse assault with intent to inflict a serious injury, an aggravated misdemeanor. Iowa Code §§ 708.1, .2A(2)(c ) (2013). In Count II, the state charged Deremiah with trespass causing bodily injury and/or property damage, a serious misdemeanor. Id. §§ 716.7, .8(2).

Deremiah pled guilty to both charges. On Count I, the court sentenced Deremiah to two years in prison with all but two days suspended and two years of probation with fines and surcharges. On Count II, the court sentenced him to one year in prison, all suspended, to run consecutively with the sentence under Count I.

As result of his probation, Deremiah was required to undergo substance abuse evaluation. The substance abuse evaluation recommended treatment. Deremiah was further required to attend a twenty-four-week program related to domestic assaults. Deremiah complied with these recommendations and requirements of probation. He also engaged a therapist, Winnie Hall, to provide him with private counseling twice a week. As part of his recovery program, Deremiah attends Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings regularly, meets with his sponsor, and has consulted regularly with Hugh Grady of the Iowa Lawyers Assistance Project.

At the time of the hearing, Deremiah had recently received his one-year AA chip commemorating his sobriety. He was also continuing to attend AA meetings on a regular basis and to receive counseling from Hall and Grady on a regular basis.

Deremiah testified that he has come to understand the role of alcohol in his life. Both Hall and Grady testified at the hearing that Deremiah was actively engaged in recovery and that his prognosis with respect to managing his alcoholism was good.

At the time of the hearing, Deremiah and Doe talked to each other on a daily basis and saw each other weekly. Deremiah testified that he avoids being with Doe when she consumes alcohol.

B. Proceedings Before the Commission Related to Sanctions. The parties agreed that Deremiah's conduct violated rule 32:8.4(b). The central contested issue before the commission was the appropriate sanction under the facts and circumstances.

The Board argued for a three-month suspension. It emphasized that in this case, Deremiah committed two serious infractions, one relating to the breaking into Doe's home and the other arising out of the assault. As a result, the Board contended this was not a case of a single-incident domestic assault, but a case involving multiple incidents of wrongful conduct.

The Board also asserted the record showed a lack of remorse on Deremiah's part and some minimizing of his behavior. It further noted that Deremiah had not taken proactive steps to reimburse Doe's landlord for the damage to the door or to reimburse Doe for her medical expenses that arose from her injuries.

Deremiah argued the appropriate sanction was a public reprimand. Among other things, Deremiah asserted a suspension would have a severe impact on his legal practice and on his clients. He noted that

875 N.W.2d 732

he was involved in long-term representations in a number of juvenile matters and that it would be difficult to get another attorney up to speed in these cases, thereby causing damage to clients. Deremiah also submitted financial information to the commission that showed his income was sufficient to meet his expenses with little to spare, that his very modest assets were exceeded by...

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    ...prevailing and evolving standards and expectations of public officials. Cf. Iowa Supreme Ct. Att’y Disciplinary Bd. v. Deremiah , 875 N.W.2d 728, 739 (Iowa 2016) ("From time to time we step back and consider whether our approach to sanctions in our cases is generally sufficient to advance t......
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