Former prosecutor accused of harassment faces new hurdles to regaining law license

An eastern Iowa attorney accused of sexually abusing a client is appealing a proposed two-year suspension of his law license. (Creative Commons photo via Pxhere.com)

The Van Buren County prosecutor who was removed from office for what the Iowa Supreme Court called “shocking and repeated displays of sexual harassment” has failed to comply with requirements for reinstatement of his law license, according to court records.

A district court judge removed Abraham Watkins from his post as county attorney in January of 2017. The Iowa Court of Appeals later reversed that decision, but last summer the Iowa Supreme Court suspended Watkins’ law license for a minimum of six months.

Now, the Iowa Supreme Court’s Office of Professional Regulation has filed a notice with the court certifying that Watkins does not meet the requirements necessary for reinstatement of his law license.

Specifically, the office alleges that Wakins has not paid the costs incurred by the Grievance Commission in investigating his wrongdoing; that he has not paid the required $100 reinstatement fee; and that he has not paid a continuing legal education fee of $100.

Watkins could not be reached for comment.

Court records indicate Watkins graduated from law school in 2004, but supported himself by playing poker until 2012 when he moved to Iowa and opened a law office in Keosauqua.

In 2014, Watkins was elected Van Buren’s county attorney. By 2015, Watkins was allegedly consuming alcohol heavily and in 2016, he was hospitalized for alcohol abuse. Watkins’ assistant, a 22-year-old female, subsequently resigned, claiming Watkins twice appeared before her wearing only his boxer briefs; told her he wished he had a wife who had sex with him all the time; and told her that her “boobs are distracting.” He also was accused of viewing explicit photos on his office computer and showing others a video of his wife squirting breast milk in the back seat of the assistant’s car.

After the Van Buren County Board of Supervisor’s investigated the allegations, the county filed a court petition seeking Watkins’ removal from office. That petition resulted in a judge ruling that Watkins’ should be removed from office for willful sexual harassment.

In its decision, the court stated, “Many people, probably most, would consider much of (Watkins’) conduct to be outrageous or even shocking. The fact that Mr. Watkins is an attorney trained in the law makes his behavior all the more troublesome.”

The decision was reversed on appeal, and Watkins was reinstated as county attorney. After losing a 2018 bid for re-election, Watkins continued to operate a private practice in Keosauqua.

In its 2020 decision suspending Watkins’ law license, the Iowa Supreme Court noted that Watkins had sought to minimize his “shocking” conduct while arguing that he didn’t realize his actions were inappropriate since they pre-dated the #MeToo movement.

“Perhaps Watkins only recently figured out that his behavior is repugnant, but sexual harassment has existed for centuries,” the court stated in its decision. “Frankly, one need not have any legal training to know, for example, that you should not show your female employee a picture of your wife’s vagina as Watkins did … Watkins was the very person tasked to seek justice for victims of sex crimes and domestic abuse, yet he cultivated and maintained a culture of disrespect for women within his own office.”

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.