Sioux City lawyer faces sanctions for alleged witness intimidation and dishonesty

nterior of an empty courtroom with gavel and sounding block on the desk.
A Sioux City attorney accused of witness intimidation and repeated acts of dishonesty is facing a possible suspension of his law license. (Photo by Getty Images)

A Sioux City attorney accused of witness intimidation and repeated acts of dishonesty is facing a possible suspension of his law license.

Court records indicate attorney Harold K. Widdison is facing sanctions for actions related to court proceedings that grew out of his divorce in 2014.

In 2016, Widdison filed a motion to modify a court order related to child visitation and support. According to the Iowa Attorney Disciplinary Board, Widdison then exchanged text messages with a couple, Amy and Fernando Claren, who had refused to testify on his behalf in an upcoming hearing on his motion.

Widdison allegedly wrote, “As soon as the trial is over, watch the bulletin at church.” Amy Claren responded, “Are you threatening my family?” Widdison allegedly replied, “Payback is a b—-.”

Judge Nancy Whittenburg ultimately rejected Widdison’s request to modify the child custody order, and she increased the amount of child support Widdison was to pay, ordered him to pay his ex-wife’s attorney’s fees, found Widdison in contempt of court and ordered him to serve two days in jail.

Widdison filed a motion for Whittenburg to recuse herself, saying the judge had informed him she was suffering “from some form of brain cancer” that would delay work on the case. Whittenburg, who had recovered years before from cancer, recused herself but filed court papers saying Widdison’s claim was “not a truthful statement.”

In a 2018 appeal of Whittenburg’s decision, Widdison wrote that the judge’s actions were “questionable because there is a significant probability the brain cancer impacted the trial court judge’s memory and intellectual capacity.”

After a hearing in the board’s complaint, the Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa found that Widdison’s claims about Whittenburg were “thoughtless and vacuous,” adding that “there is no doubt these statements were made by Widdison knowing they were false and material.”

The commission said that even after Whittenburg stated Widdison’s allegations about her cancer were reckless and false, Widdison “doubled down” and claimed the judge was making defamatory and libelous statements against him.

“The commission views Widdison’s actions as a desperate attempt to change the outcome of his divorce proceeding,” the commission ruled. “Widdison’s statement in his appellate brief that ‘There is a significant probability the brain cancer impacted [Judge Whittenburg]’s memory and intellectual capacity and function’ goes beyond the pale.”

The commission also considered a letter that Widdison is alleged to have sent his ex-wife’s family before the planned child-custody hearing in 2017. The letter purported to be a copy of a letter Widdison had sent to Whittenburg. In it, Widdison wrote that if the family members were to testify at the hearing, negative information about them would be revealed in court.

According to the Iowa Attorney Disciplinary Board, Widdison later acknowledged he had never sent the letter to the judge. According to the commission, Widdison said he couldn’t recall why he sent a copy to his ex-wife’s family, adding that he wasn’t trying to intimidate anyone, but was attempting to share “my personal feelings.”

The commission rejected that explanation. “Widdison was clearly trying to mislead and intimidate these potential witnesses for the opposing party in his own child-custody case,” the commission found.

The Grievance Commission has recommended that the Iowa Supreme Court suspend Widdison’s law license for 120 days, citing “repeated ethical violations involving dishonesty when he made false statements to the courts, to the board, and about Judge Whittenburg, to name a few.”

The Iowa Capital Dispatch called Widdison and asked about the commission’s recommendations, at which point the call was disconnected. Widdison did not respond to subsequent calls from the Capital Dispatch.

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.