Pella attorney’s license suspended for malicious prosecution, lying to judge

By: - May 13, 2022 1:30 pm

The Iowa Supreme Court has suspended the license of a Pella attorney for malicious prosecution and lying to a judge. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Judicial Branch)

The Iowa Supreme Court has suspended the law license of a central Iowa lawyer who lied to police and to a judge and was criminally convicted of malicious prosecution.

Last year, 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, had received a call from a Randy Cornelison, the father of a client, on Aug. 21, 2018, at his Pella law office. During that call, Cornelison 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 day, Aeilts reported to Pella police that Cornelison had threatened to physically assault him, and he asked that harassment charges be filed and a no-contact order issued.

After taking the report from Aeilts, a Pella police officer contacted Cornelison and asked whether he had threatened Aeilts. Cornelison denied doing so and provided the officer with a four-minute recording of the entire phone call, indicating he 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. 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.”

Later in the day, Aeilts’ texted Robinson again, stating, “Made a mistake that’ll be coming across your desk. Hopeful we can work something out. 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.”

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 Iowa Supreme Court’s Grievance Commission then recommended that the Iowa Supreme Court suspend Aeilts’ license to practice law for six months. Aeilts argued a 30-day suspension was sufficient.

The court on Friday imposed a six-month suspension, stating, “Aeilts’ malicious attempt to send Cornelison to jail in an effort to prevent him from filing an ethics complaint against Aeilts displays his lack of honesty and reflects adversely on his fitness as a lawyer. His actions reveal a disrespect for the law and law enforcement.”

As for Aeilts’ misrepresentations to the judge when sentenced, the Supreme Court stated, “We reject his insistence that his statements to the court that he ‘was not a criminal attorney’ and ‘had handled maybe two or three OWIs’ were inaccurate, ‘off-the-cuff’ statements made in the heat of the moment when he was under stress in response to the prosecution’s request for a heavier sentence.

“First, Aeilts’ allocution statements were not off-the-cuff nervous chatter but were made, in his words, specifically to ‘clarify a misrepresentation that was made about [his] history.’ Second, we are particularly troubled by Aeilts’ attempt to minimize his experience to look more favorable to the sentencing judge.”

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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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