After five ‘rather shocking’ drug arrests, Iowa attorney faces disciplinary action

After five drug arrests in a little more than a year, an Iowa lawyer is facing a possible 18-month suspension of his law license.

Wesley Alan Johnson, who was admitted to the Iowa bar in 2008, has practiced in Boone County, primarily in the areas of family law, juvenile law, criminal law and guardianships and conservatorships.

In January 2020, Johnson was involved in a car accident in Boone County, resulting in guilty pleas on charges of first-offense drunken driving and possession of methamphetamine.

Six months later, Johnson was arrested after a traffic stop in Polk County. He was charged with drunken driving and with the possession of illegal drugs, including methamphetamine, marijuana, and LSD. He later pleaded guilty to drunken driving and possession of LSD. Because the Boone County case had yet to be resolved, both it and the Polk County drunken-driving convictions were treated as first offenses.

One month after the Polk County arrest, in September 2020, Johnson was stopped in Dallas County and charged with possession of methamphetamine. He later pleaded guilty to the charge.

In February 2021, Johnson was arrested after a traffic stop in Jasper County and charged with driving with a revoked license and possession of methamphetamine, to which he later pleaded guilty.

Four days later, he was arrested in Polk County and charged with driving with a revoked license and illegal possession of oxycodone. He later pleaded guilty to the possession charge.

In May 2021, the Iowa Supreme Court temporarily suspended Johnson’s license to practice law due to a disability or incapacity. Johnson consented to the disability suspension, but the arrests also triggered disciplinary proceedings.

In February of this year, the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board filed a formal complaint against Johnson, alleging professional misconduct relating to his multiple criminal violations and use of controlled substances.

The Grievance Commission of the Iowa Supreme Court then ordered a hearing to take place in May, but Johnson and the board filed a joint stipulation agreeing to the basic facts of the case, and so no hearing was held.

In its recent, written disciplinary recommendation to the Iowa Supreme Court, the commission said it considered Johnson’s statement to a judge after one of his arrests in which he reportedly said, “I know I’ve got a substance issue. I was a practicing attorney for over 12 years and then I started using methamphetamine. Within a year … I lost everything.”

The commission noted that after Johnson made that admission, he entered inpatient treatment as a condition of his probation, but walked away from the program after two weeks, against medical advice and in violation of his probation. That resulted in the revocation of deferred judgments he had received in two of his criminal cases, and he was found in contempt of court. He eventually completed inpatient treatment and was discharged from probation in early 2022.

In making its disciplinary recommendation to the court, the commission said its members “found it rather shocking to note that in a period of barely more than a year, Johnson managed to rack up drug arrests for five separate incidents committed in Boone, Polk, Dallas, and Jasper Counties. And those are only the times he happened to be caught.”

The commission said it was “hopeful that Johnson has now received a wake-up call, but we are also mindful of the fact that Johnson’s first four separate drug arrests apparently did not deliver the message.”

The commission opted to recommend a disciplinary suspension of Johnson’s law license of at least 18 months, with that suspension to begin only after his disability suspension, which is still in effect, has been lifted.

In addition, prior to reinstatement, Johnson would be required to provide medical documentation demonstrating that he “remains clean from drug use and is fit to return to the practice of law,” the commission recommended.

The Attorney Disciplinary Board concurs with most of the commission’s recommendations to the court but argues in favor of having Johnson’s disciplinary suspension run concurrent with his disability suspension, which would accelerate the process by which Johnson could resume the practice of law.

The court has yet to issue a decision in the case.

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