A Utah defense attorney admitted he mishandled four cases — including one client who was sent to death row in 2015 — and has had his law license suspended for three years.
At least 20 clients have complained to the Utah State Bar about North Salt Lake-based attorney Sean Young, according to an August settlement agreement.
In that filing, Young admitted to violating attorney rules in four cases, and the Utah State Bar’s Office of Professional Conduct agreed to drop 16 other complaints.
Most of the allegations lodged against Young had to do with the attorney not completing the work he was hired to do. In one case where he represented someone in immigration court, he did not attend his client’s hearing or file the proper petition, and he didn’t return his client’s phone calls. In another case, he was hired to represent a man accused of sexual assault — but Young never responded to the man’s calls requesting evidence in his case.
A third case involved a man accused of attempted murder, who is appealing his conviction based on Young’s representation. Young admits in the settlement agreement that he did not gather evidence, did not meet with his client and did not object to “irrelevant and highly prejudicial” evidence of the suspect’s gang affiliations and tattoos.
The most high-profile case where Young faced complaints involved his representation of death row inmate Douglas Lovell, whose 2015 conviction is in question after an appellate attorney raised concerns in 2017 about Young’s performance at trial.
Young did not adequately prepare witnesses, according to a court filing, did not call certain witnesses to testify on Lovell’s behalf and did not object to purported interference by lawyers representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Lovell’s case has been remanded back to district court, where an evidentiary hearing will be held to determine if Young “performed deficiently.” It could lead to another new trial for Lovell, who has twice been given the death penalty for the 1985 killing of Joyce Yost.
Lovell’s lead trial attorney, Michael Bouwhuis, wrote in an affidavit that Young, his co-counsel, had been assigned to interview and prepare 18 witnesses, including former church members, Lovell’s family members and an inmate who said Lovell positively affected his life. They would have said that Lovell’s life had worth, and that Lovell was remorseful for his crimes and could be rehabilitated.
Of those 18, only two have said they were contacted by Young before the trial — but the conversations were brief and mostly concerned when they would testify, not the substance of what they would say.
Young’s Weber County public defense contract was terminated after that trial, according to county officials.
The attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.
Young’s discipline went into effect in early September, according to court records. But the defense attorney came to court on Tuesday as another client, Latino activist Tony Yapias, was due to be sentenced in a case where he had been initially charged with sexually assaulting a woman. Young met with the judge behind closed doors, but then took a seat in the courtroom gallery when the case was called. The judge then delayed the hearing by a week after Yapias came to the podium alone and the judge acknowledged he did not have legal counsel with him.
Yapias had pleaded guilty in late August to two charges in connection with the March 2016 encounter when his ex-girlfriend said he forced himself on her — neither of which were sex crimes.
Instead, he pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence, admitting he deleted text messages the woman sent to him, messages in which she said she did not want to see him. He also pleaded guilty to unlawful detention, admitting he had kept her in her home longer than she wanted to be.