The district court ordered the removal of Abraham Watkins as county attorney in January of 2017 after claims of multiple incidents of sexual harassment from an office assistant and assistant county attorney. They included showing naked pictures of his wife and making inappropriate sexual comments about women.
The Iowa Court of Appeals reversed the decision on a 4-3 ruling due to the high burden required to remove an elected official from office. Watkins lost his bid for reelection in 2018. The Supreme Court disciplinary board first recommended a 30-day suspension of his law license and then upped that to six-months. Watkins said he had a clean record and asked for a public reprimand.
The Iowa Supreme Court increased the suspension to indefinite with no chance for reinstatement for six months. The high court says this is the first such case where there was no criminal conduct, but there were several mitigating factors — including the power imbalance of the attorney over the office assistant in a supervisory capacity, the attorney’s position in a county attorney’s office, the attorney’s minimization of his acts and placing the blame elsewhere, and the harm caused by the attorney’s misconduct that included the office assistant leaving her job.
And the ruling also cited the extraordinary circumstances where a county attorney was nearly removed from elective office.
Here’s the ruling: Abraham Watkins ruling PDF