Convicted lawyer who lied to police and judge faces license suspension

By: - February 5, 2022 11:00 am

(Photo by krisanapong detraphiphat/Getty Images)

A central Iowa lawyer who lied to police and was criminally convicted of malicious prosecution of a client’s father is facing a potential six-month suspension of his law license.

Last April, the Iowa Supreme Court’s Attorney Disciplinary Board filed a complaint against Andrew Aeilts, an attorney from Pella, alleging three counts of professional misconduct.

Specifically, the board claimed Aeilts committed a criminal act that reflected adversely on his honesty and fitness as a lawyer; engaged in conduct involving dishonesty or fraud; and engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Aeilts, who has practiced law in Iowa since 2015, received a call from a client’s father on Aug. 21, 2018, at his Pella law office. During that call, the man told Aeilts, “I will file a complaint about you,” referring to an ethics complaint that would go before the board for disciplinary action.

Later that same day, Aeilts reported to Pella police that the man had threatened to physically assault him, and he asked that harassment charges be filed and a no-contact order issued.

Aeilts told the police he was not afraid to testify and that the man who threatened him had a criminal history.

After taking the report from Aeilts, a Pella police officer initiated an investigation in which he contacted the client’s father and asked the man whether he had threatened Aeilts. The man denied doing so and provided the officer with a four-minute recording of the entire phone call, indicating the man never made any threats that he was going to physically harm Aeilts.

A few weeks later, on Sept. 16, 2018, about 4 a.m., Aeilts was arrested and charged with first-offense drunken driving. Police records indicate Aeilts had driven his car off the roadway and through a corn field, causing damage to both the field and the car. He then drove the car an additional six miles, with a damaged windshield, before being stopped by law enforcement. His blood-alcohol level was measured at .122, well over the legal limit of .08.

Prior to being booked into the Marion County Jail, Aeilts sent Assistant Marion County Attorney Mathias Robinson two text messages. The first stated, “Need help.” The second stated, “911.” During the booking process, Aeilts said to a police lieutenant, “This all has been embarrassing enough. If you just want to drop it, it will never happen again. I guarantee it. How about that?”

Later in the day, Robinson responded to Aeilts’ texts by asking, “What’s up?” Aeilts texted back, “Made a mistake that’ll be coming across your desk. Hopeful we can work something out,” and then added, “And hopeful we can do so quickly and quietly if possible.”

On Oct. 1, 2018, the Pella Police Department criminally charged Aeilts with malicious prosecution and filing a false report of an indictable offense.

Aeilts later pleaded guilty to the charge of operating while intoxicated and was granted a deferred judgment and placed on probation for one year.  He entered an Alford plea of guilty to the charge of malicious prosecution, and at his sentencing in February 2020, he told the court, “At the time of the facts giving rise to this case, I was not a criminal defense attorney. I had handled maybe two or three OWIs. I had never handled anything else. I was not a criminal defense attorney. I didn’t know the elements of harassment. I had never handled a harassment charge. I had never handled so much as a simple assault.”

The judge in the case fined Aeilts $315 and sentenced him to three days in jail on the malicious prosecution charge. The charge of filing a false report of an indictable offense was dismissed.

The Attorney Disciplinary Board would later find that prior to the phone call that resulted in the charges against him, Aeilts had represented clients in at least 22 criminal matters that included allegations of trespass, assault, disorderly conduct, harassment, burglary, child endangerment and drug possession.

The board concluded Aeilts’ statements to the judge at the time of his sentencing were false.

The board brought the case before the Iowa Supreme Court’s Grievance Commission, which recently found that Aeilts’ false claims of threatened assault “created a grave risk of potential harm” to the victim and “demonstrated a disrespect for law enforcement.”

“Aeilts intentionally made repeated misrepresentations of material fact to the police and to the court,” the commission found.

As for Aeilts’ conduct after being arrested for drunken driving, the commission found that “it is clear that Aeilts sent the text messages with the intent to have Robinson provide him with preferential treatment and intervene in his pending OWI arrest,” but said that conduct didn’t rise to the level of interfering in the administration of justice.

Aeilts stipulated to the factual findings of the board, but urged the commission to consider his inexperience and lack of mentorship as mitigating factors in his disciplinary case. The commission declined to do so, stating that Aeilts’ “failures are in his ethics and honesty, with multiple misrepresentations to the court and to law enforcement over a period of time.”

The commission added if the father of Aeilts’ client “had not recorded the phone call with Aeilts, he could have faced criminal charges, incarceration, and wrongful conviction.”

The commission recommended to the Iowa Supreme Court that it suspend Aeilts’ license to practice law six months.

The court has yet to rule on the matter.

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Clark Kauffman
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.

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