Iowa Practice change in Legal Malpractice Claim Arising From Criminal Representation

The Iowa Supreme Court has recently made a decision permitting a criminal defendant to sue his attorney for legal malpractice, without having to prove that he was innocent of the criminal charges. The Defendant was Robert Baker, who sued his attorney after claiming the attorney advised him to enter a plea agreement on a solicitation charge, so that other charges would be dismissed.

Baker had been arrested for attempted enticement of a minor and solicitation of a minor to commit a sex act. He pleaded guilty to the solicitation charge in October 2006, and received a 5 year suspended sentence, was placed on probation and ordered to enter a sex offender treatment program.

 

Baker’s conviction was overturned in 2011, after a judge determined that Baker’s attorney had improperly permitted him to plead guilty, when there was no factual basis for the charges. Baker then sued his attorney for legal malpractice.

 

The attorney had argued that Iowa courts should require a plaintiff to prove actual innocence in order to make a legal malpractice claim. A district court judge agreed and dismissed Baker’s action. Baker appealed. The Iowa Supreme Court took the case, reversed and removed the case to the district court.

 

Most state appellate courts still follow the rule that actual innocence is required in order to pursue a legal malpractice claim in a criminal case.