The Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday took the law license of an attorney for Matthew David Stewart, an Ogden man facing the death penalty for allegedly killing a police officer.
Attorney Jonathon W. Grimes was disbarred for pocketing a $7,070 in a 2005 employment discrimination claim, according to Tuesday's opinion.
The high court overturned a lower court decision reducing Grimes' punishment to a suspension, ruling his Grimes' low pay and lack of other disciplinary problems didn't excuse abandoning the case and taking the money for his personal use.
Grimes, who also is a former Salt Lake County district attorney candidate, and was assigned to Bill Riordan's discrimination claim shortly after he started at his first legal job. He took the case and the retainer with him when he departed the firm in 2006, but "dishonestly told Mr. Riordan he did not have [the money]," according to the opinion.
The claim was eventually dismissed after Grimes stopped communicating with Riordan, who had to hire another attorney
At a sanctions hearing, Grimes said money problems and accompanying depression caused him to take the money. The father of five had been paid just $13,000 in 13 months while working for attorney J. Kent Holland. With those mitigating circumstances, a district court softened the proposed disbarment to a 181-day suspension.
Grimes served that suspension, but the Utah State Bar's Office of Public Conduct appealed the decision. The Utah Supreme Court sided with the disciplinary body Tuesday, ruling "Mr. Grimes' dishonesty and refusal to acknowledge his wrongdoing outweigh any mitigating circumstances," according to the opinion.
The disbarment order takes effect in 30 days. Grimes can re-apply for admission to the bar in five years.
"It's pretty devastating," said Grimes attorney Greg Skordas. "We certainly didn't ever argue he shouldn't be punished, but our position always was the six-month punishment was appropriate given his lack of professional maturity at the time."
Grimes initially viewed the money not as a retainer, but as part of his settlement when he split from Holland, Skordas said.
Grimes garnered 4 percent of the vote for Salt Lake County district attorney when he ran on the Libertarian ticket in 2010. In May, he was hired to represent Stewart, who is facing a possible death sentence after allegedly shooting and killing Ogden police officer Jared Francom, who was serving a search warrant for marijuana at Stewart's home.
Stewart is also represented by four other attorneys.