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Attorney barred from court

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Salt Lake attorney Robert Booker has been indefinitely suspended from practicing in Utah's federal court following a November disagreement with its chief judge.

The verbal tussle with U.S. District Judge Dee Benson landed Booker in jail for three days on contempt of court charges and led to review by a three-judge disciplinary panel.

An order released this past week cites "abusive misconduct, conflicts of interest, unprofessional activity, and disrespect and improper conduct" to support the suspension.

U.S. District Judge David Winder, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Boyce and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Judith Boulden directed Booker to instruct his clients to obtain other counsel, as he can no longer represent them.

"(H)is further involvement in the practice of law is detrimental to the public interest and the due administration of justice of this court. He poses a substantial threat of irreparable harm to the public and this court at this time," the three-page order states.

The Deseret News was unable to contact Booker for comment, despite repeated attempts. There was no answer at his Salt Lake office, and there was no answering machine or voice mail on which to leave a message.

However, the 12-year attorney told the Associated Press he would appeal the panel's decision.

"It's an illegitimate order," Booker said. "You cannot take away an African American's right to make a living without due process."

The dispute began when Benson denied Booker's request to postpone the trial of his client, William Penn III.

The attorney, a Brigham Young University graduate, failed to appear at the Nov. 5 trial date for the alleged drug dealer. Then, at two hearings that week, Booker, in explaining why he needed more time to prepare a defense for his client, accused the U.S. Attorney's Office of withholding evidence, lying and altering evidence in other cases.

Booker told the judge it would be "immoral" to go forward with the trial under the current circumstances.

But the disciplinary panel ruled Booker's misconduct goes "beyond his alleged contemptuous misconduct before Judge Benson."

Benson in November cited similar, unfounded allegations against the U.S. Attorney's Office in other cases.

According to the order, Booker failed to respond to the allegations against him before a Dec. 21 deadline. He has, however, appealed Benson's finding of contempt to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Booker is suspended pending a final resolution of the case, but the order gives no indication of when that decision will come.


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com