Court reinstates attorney’s license because alcohol consumption delayed his client’s trial • Iowa Capital Dispatch
Court reinstates attorney’s license because alcohol consumption delayed his client’s trial • Iowa Capital Dispatch

The Iowa Supreme Court has reinstated the license of an attorney who appeared in court while intoxicated, was convicted of vandalism of a vehicle and committed other ethics violations.

Court records show that in June 2023, Jennifer Jo Weaver of Marshalltown, then known as Jennifer Jo Frese, represented Cesar Ventura in a criminal case in Tama County charging him with obstruction of justice for resisting arrest in a domestic violence case.

The prosecutor’s disciplinary committee later alleged that Weaver “intentionally consumed so much alcohol” on one night during the week the trial was underway that she showed up at the courthouse drunk the next morning.

According to an affidavit she later filed with the court, Weaver’s blood alcohol level that morning was 0.079 per mille – just within the legal limit of 0.08 per mille for drivers.

Due to Weaver’s condition, the trial was temporarily adjourned. According to the panel, her actions showed “disregard for the law and the justice system” and were part of a “pattern of criminal conduct.”

The panel alleged that Weaver then “lied to her client and his family about the reason for the delay in the trial” by telling them her child was sick and that she “even asked the court to join in her deception” by providing the jury with a false explanation for the delay, which the court rejected.

Also in June 2023, Weaver was charged with 5th First-degree criminal damage for allegedly ripping flowers from a pot in an unspecified office building in Marshalltown. The charge was later dropped.

The committee also accused Weaver of ethics violations related to her July 2023 arrest and subsequent conviction for third-degree criminal damage to property. In that case, police alleged Weaver caused $2,700 in damage to her ex-husband and partner’s truck shortly after clearing her belongings out of the office.

In August 2023, Weaver was charged with third-degree harassment after being accused of sending several text messages and photos to a person’s personal cellphone. According to police, the messages – which are not described in the police report – were “intended to both harass and distress the victim.” The harassment charge was later dropped.

The Bar Association’s Disciplinary Committee also accused Weaver of a conflict of interest because she had represented a man in a custody dispute while her then-partner in the case was representing her client’s opponent.

In August 2023, Weaver agreed to an indefinite suspension of her law license due to disability. In March of this year, while that suspension was still in effect, the panel recommended that the court suspend Weaver’s license for a period not to exceed 30 days based on the alleged ethics violations, which the court did on April 9.

On May 14, the court lifted the 30-day suspension related to the ethics violations, but added that the August 2023 disability-related suspension would remain in effect until further notice. On June 6, the court lifted the August 2023 suspension and reinstated Weaver’s license.

Other Iowa attorneys recently charged before the Attorney Disciplinary Board include:

Joel E. Fenton from Des Moineswho faces a 90-day suspension of his license. According to court records, the Iowa Supreme Court suspended Fenton’s license on the grounds of disability in 2002, six years after he was admitted to the Iowa Bar.

Ten years later, he was reinstated, but in 2017 he received a personal warning for ethics violations. In 2020, the Iowa Supreme Court suspended Fenton’s license for 60 days for neglecting his clients.

In 2022, after being accused of further misconduct, Fenton entered into an agreement with the attorneys’ disciplinary committee that deferred further disciplinary action because Fenton promised to comply with ethics rules over the next year. As part of that agreement, Fenton admitted to repeatedly failing to respond to inquiries from two clients about their workers’ compensation cases.

Shortly after the forbearance agreement was entered into, the panel learned that Fenton had failed to meet deadlines set by the court and had failed to appear for all scheduled trials, hearings and other court proceedings as required. The panel alleged that Fenton failed to appear in court on numerous occasions in 2023 when representing clients in state and federal criminal proceedings.

The commission recommended a 90-day suspension of Fenton’s license, finding that “Fenton failed to appear at five hearings, missed seven filing deadlines, and failed to advance the cases of at least five clients for several months… In several cases, these involved incarcerated individuals who already have limited access to their case and legal counsel.”

According to the commission, Fenton informed the panel that he voluntarily left his practice earlier this year and is now seeking a diagnosis and treatment for his attention deficit disorder. The court has not yet acted on the commission’s recommendation.

Carl F. Stiefel II by Victorwho recently agreed to a 30-day suspension of his law license. In an affidavit filed with the court, Stiefel admitted that as an attorney and executor of an estate proceeding involving a relative, he failed to take action to disburse more than $400,000 from the estate.

Stiefel is one of three family members who are beneficiaries in this case.

“I still have not distributed the remaining assets of the estate,” Stiefel told the court last month, 15 years after the probate proceedings began, seven years after the court ordered him to take action and six years after he was publicly reprimanded for his handling of the case. The court recently imposed the agreed-upon 30-day suspension.

By Liam