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Censure for Attorney Who Lied About Sex Offender Relationship

Nov. 15, 2019, 5:27 PM

A Wyoming attorney who lied about his relationship with a registered sex offender will be publicly censured, the state supreme court ruled.

The Supreme Court of Wyoming Nov. 14 adopted the recommendations from the state bar’s disciplinary board, which found in October that John Joseph DeLeon violated professional ethics rules prohibiting dishonesty and acting in contravention to the administration of justice.

DeLeon was a public defender when he began a sexual relationship in 2018 with Candice Nichole Cortez, according to the censure report with the state high court. Cortez, who wasn’t DeLeon’s client, had pleaded guilty in 2016 to second-degree sexual abuse of a minor.

When DeLeon moved in 2018, Cortez stayed at his place for several days, a violation of the state sex offender registration act. DeLeon’s apartment was within 200 feet of a school and Cortez wasn’t allowed to reside within 1,000 feet of one, the court report showed.

The local sheriff’s office discovered what happened. When an officer questioned DeLeon, he denied that Cortez had ever spent the night there. But he changed his story after Cortez admitted to staying with him, according to the court document.

DeLeon ultimately self-reported his actions to the state bar counsel and admitted violating ethics rules when he lied to the officer.

Aggravating factors in this case included DeLeon’s dishonest motive and “extensive experience” practicing law, the board said. But it said it was “impressed” with DeLeon’s “heartfelt expression of remorse for his conduct” and “impressive record of pro bono public service.”

These mitigating factors “should be given great weight in determining the appropriate sanction in this matter,” which is public censure, the board determined.

The case is Bd. of Prof’l Responsibility, Wyo. State Bar v. DeLeon, 2019 BL 438350, Wyo., No. D-19-0010, 11/14/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com