Sanction for Magistrate’s Troublesome Legal Ad

     (CN) – An Iowa magistrate who advertised his private legal services with an image of him in his judicial robes violated the rules of conduct, the state Supreme Court ruled.
     Clarence Meldrum Jr., a licensed attorney for 41 years, has been a magistrate in Pottawattamie County, Iowa, since 1993. Meldrum was president of the Powttawattie County Bar Association and Magistrate Judges’ Association, as well as a member of the board of Iowa Legal Aid and policy committee for the office of fourth judicial district.
     A practicing bankruptcy lawyer, Meldrum also handles municipal infractions, small-claims matters, and matters involving mental health or substance abuse. He reportedly limits his practice areas so as to avoid conflicts of in interest as a magistrate.
     But when Meldrum took out an advertisement in county phonebooks in 2007, he included a photograph of him in his judicial robes. The photo had previously appeared in a courthouse composite photograph.
     Meldrum was in turn charged with violating Canon 1 of the Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct for “abusing the prestige of his judicial office to advance his personal economic interests and for failing to promote the public confidence in the judiciary.”
     The magistrate said he had not intended for his clients to think that he would use his judicial office for personal gain or to obtain favorable treatment.
     “I felt that being a member of the judiciary, and specifically an Iowa judicial magistrate, lent credence to my professionalism and my qualifications to represent people,” Meldrum explained.
     The Iowa Commission on Judicial Qualifications recommended a public sanction, noting that Meldrum did not renew the advertisement after he learned of the charges against him, “expressed his embarrassment, apologized, stated he took the alleged violation to heart, and indicated that he had no intention of violating this ethical canon again.”
     Iowa’s Supreme Court affirmed Friday.
     “A magistrate who also practices as a private attorney violates the judicial code of conduct when the magistrate attempts to influence potential clients to use his services as an attorney by using his office as an indicator of his responsible and trustworthy nature,” Justice Brent Appel wrote for the court.
     “Wearing the hats of magistrate and attorney, Magistrate Meldrum was required to comply with ethical provisions applicable to each.”

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