A West Des Moines defense attorney attempted to extort money from this ex-wife's former employer and force the resignation of a company executive and a board member, according to a ruling today by the Iowa Supreme Court.
In a case that has toured all levels of the state's judicial system and the Supreme Court's grievance commission, attorney Dean Stowers' license to practice law was suspended and he was given a public remand.
Supreme Court justices overruled a recommendation from its grievance commission in handing out the suspension. In addition, judges found that Stowers violated four disciplinary rules, as opposed to the two that were recommended by the commission.
The case has its roots in a 2005 sexual harassment complaint brought by Jan Reis against Care Initiatives Inc., a Texas-based nonprofit that is Iowa's largest nursing home operator.
At the time she brought the complaint, Reis was the company's chief operating officer. She also was married to Stowers. According to court documents, the case led to the couple's divorce in 2011.
Reis ultimately filed a lawsuit against Care Initiatives, alleging that she was fired in November 2005 in retaliation for filing the sexual harassment complaint and for being a whistle blower.
Care Initiatives settled the case for $4 million, including attorney fees. While the case was pending, Reis and her attorneys agreed to keep certain documents confidential. She also agreed to return the documents to Care Initiatives following the settlement.
However, Stowers claimed he was not bound by the agreement, ultimately arguing that the documents might be needed as part of a federal investigation.
He was referring to an announcement in February 2008 that Sen. Charles Grassley had asked Care Initiatives to turn over financial records as a part of his inquiry into executive compensation by health care nonprofits.
On Feb. 12, 2008, Stowers, while he was still married to Reis, sent an email to Care Initiatives' president with the subject line: "It looks as though your time has come." The email said the executive should resign by 4 p.m. the following day.
On Feb. 13, 2008, Stowers sent an email to a Care Initiatives board member with the subject line: "Your time is up."
The email went on to say: "Don't doubt my resolve, ability to carry through, or intent to seek complete vindication ... You have a very narrow window of opportunity that you and any legal counsel representing you personally should jump on without delay before it closes. Don't make this painful for yourself."
That email also said the board member should quit the board and donate $100,000 to a charity in Reis' name.
Care Initiatives' attorneys were unsuccessful in attempts to have Stowers return the confidential documents from this then-wife's case, saying that in light of Grassley's investigation, the documents might be needed.
In the opinion, Supreme Court judges said they agreed with the grievance commission that Stowers "proceeded vigilante-style to use threats of embarrassment, disbarment, and prosecution to extra-judicially seek remedies."
Reis and Stowers separated in 2010 and divorced the following year. Their divorce settlement was upheld earlier this year by the Iowa Court of Appeals.