Iowa Judge Suspended for Showing Up To Work Drunk

Iowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: Judiciary.

In The Matter of Emily Susan Dean, District Associate Court Judge. Iowa judiciary.

On May 9, 2012, Iowa Associate District Judge Emily Dean got a ride to work at the Henry County courthouse from her court reporter. During the ride to the courthouse, Judge Dean had been drinking a "colorless liquid" and fell asleep in the car. When they arrived at the courthouse, Judge Dean swayed and was unsteady. The court reporter recognized that the Judge was not in any condition to assume her duties. The court reporter than got assistance from an employee of the county attorney's office, and the Judge was persuaded to leave the courthouse. The court reporter drove her home and contacted a family member. Later that day, the Judge was admitted to the hospital for three days for severe alcohol intoxication.

Another judge brought this matter to the attention of the Commission on Judicial Qualifications. The Attorney General's office conducted an investigation, and Judge Dean responded with a letter admitting that she was an alcoholic. In 2011, she suffered a grand mal seizure as a result of alcohol withdrawal. After that incident, she underwent inpatient treatment at Hazelden in Center City, Minnesota. She underwent a second inpatient program at the Abbey in Betendorf, Iowa in April 2012. The attorney general's investigator followed up and learned that Judge Dean left both programs before completion. In her contact with the investigator, Judge Dean referred to the May 9 event as "hitting bottom."

The investigation revealed other incidents in which the judge appeared "disoriented" and "disheveled." In another incident, the judge took the bench and asked all of the lawyers and litigants, "why are all of you here?" In another incident, the judge decided to test the courtroom "panic button," which it turned out was working. In May 2012, a citizen filed a complaint alleging public urination by a female driving a car registered to the judge's husband. This citizen followed the car to the judge's mother's residence.

After "hitting bottom" in the May 9 incident, Judge Dean was making excellent progress in a twelve-step program through the Iowa Lawyers Assistance Program and Great River Addiction Services. The professionals involved in her care did not recommend further inpatient treatment.

At a hearing, Judge Dean generally admitted the allegations and admitted that her conduct tarnished the reputation of the judicial branch. She also suggested that her experience would give her insight into her work as a judge. As part of her contract with the Iowa Lawyers Assistance Program, she was subject to providing random urine samples and other monitoring.

On November 2, 2012, the Commission on Judicial Qualifications reinstated Judge Dean to her judicial duties, subject to conditions. They also petitioned the Iowa Supreme Court for discipline, recommending a three-month suspension without pay. Because of the court workload, the Commission recommended that this be done in one-week segments, as assigned by the Chief Judge.

The Supreme Court reviewed previous Iowa cases involving DWI's by judges, but those cases did not involve interference with judicial duties. It also looked at cases from other states. It concluded that suspension was warranted. After weighing all of the mitigating factors, the court concluded that a 30 day suspension without pay was appropriate. Fringe benefits would continue during the suspension. The suspension was to begin on September 30, 2014.

Judge Dean will be on the November 4, 2014 Judicial Retention Ballot in southeastern Iowa. She was appointed to the bench in 2006 by Governor Tom Vilsack (Democrat).

No. 14-0510 (Iowa Sept. 12, 2014)

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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