CENTERVILLE (AP) —
The Iowa Supreme Court’s decision to immediately suspend the law license of a small county’s only prosecutor without a disciplinary hearing or further explanation is highly unusual, legal observers said Friday.
Chief Justice Mark Cady on Wednesday granted the Supreme Court attorney disciplinary board’s request for a disability suspension for Appanoose County Attorney Richard F. Scott. Cady said the board made a sufficient showing of “Scott’s current inability to discharge his professional responsibilities” to justify the suspension. He waived a requirement that the suspension not take effect for 20 days, citing “exigent circumstances” that he did not explain.
The disciplinary board is reviewing whether it can make public the application and supporting documents that it filed with Cady in seeking the suspension, administrator Charles Harrington said. He said a matter involving Scott came to the board’s attention earlier this week and required quick action to protect the public interest.
“It’s kind of an unusual situation,” he said. “This is a little different from some of the other suspensions we’ve had. Very generally, the rule is concerned with reasons why a lawyer may not be performing his or her professional responsibilities. At this time, that’s about all I can say.”
Scott can challenge the suspension at a hearing set for May 29 or ask the high court to review the matter sooner. At this point, Harrington said, he is only facing an allegation.
Disability suspensions are given to Iowa attorneys who cannot currently work “due to disability, incapacity, abandonment of practice, or disappearance” under state rules. The rules say they can be issued for alcoholics and drug addicts seeking treatment, people who are committed to the hospital for mental issues or others who cannot perform their duties. Their licenses can be reinstated when they show they are qualified to resume their practice.
The suspension briefly left a void in Appanoose County, which has a population of about 13,000 and is along the Missouri border, because Scott has no assistant county attorneys in his office. In Iowa, county attorneys act as the top prosecutor of criminal laws and as the county government’s legal representative.
James Blomgren, chief judge of the judicial district that includes the county, on Friday appointed neighboring Davis County Attorney Rick Lynch and his assistant as temporary acting county attorneys in Appanoose. They will play that role until Scott returns to practice or the county supervisors appoint someone else to the position.
In a court filing, the Iowa Attorney General’s office said it would help the county if a significant criminal case or important legal matter should arise.
Sheriff Gary Anderson said earlier Friday the absence of a prosecutor had not caused any problems for law enforcement. He said no criminal cases were scheduled for trial this week, and his office hasn’t had any other matters that would require a prosecutor’s immediate attention.
Anderson said he was surprised by the suspension, and his office has had a good working relationship with Scott.
A woman who answered the phone in Scott’s county office declined comment. A home number for Scott in Centerville could not be found.
News reports show Scott had been on the job very recently. Just last month, he said he had filed theft charges against a former employee of a state-owned resort after a state audit found the woman had transferred more than $2,700 for her personal use.
Scott was appointed to the job to fill a vacancy and then won election on his own to a four-year term in 2010, said Corwin Ritchie, executive director of the Iowa County Attorneys Association. He said he can only recall one another disability suspension issued to a county attorney, which was several years ago and involved a prosecutor who later found out he had a brain tumor.