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Iowa prosecutor to be reinstated despite 'egregious' conduct

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KEOSAUQUA, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa prosecutor who faced sexual harassment allegations that the state Supreme Court described as "egregious conduct" announced Tuesday he intends to resume his duties weeks after the all-male court ordered him reinstated.

Abraham Watkins apologized for his past conduct during a news conference at the law office in his home in Keosauqua, a town in southeast Iowa with a population of about 900. He said he intends to resume public service in the coming days.

The Iowa Supreme Court last month found Watkins shouldn't have been removed as Van Buren County attorney in January 2017 despite allegations that included commenting on an employee's breasts, repeatedly appearing in underwear in his home office and displaying nude photos of his wife. In a 4-3 ruling , the court found the "morally reprehensible" behavior wasn't enough to remove an elected official.

Watkins said Tuesday that he was taking responsibility for what he described as "careless behavior" and said he didn't realize the effect his words and actions had on other people.

"I definitely could have acted better," Watkins said. "I make no excuse for my carelessness. This is a straight-up apology, and I firmly resolve to not commit these errors again."

Watkins said he hasn't decided whether to seek re-election this fall. Former Van Buren County Attorney Craig Miller is the only person running so far. Watkins must decide in August whether to join the race.

Asked whether he had public support, Watkins said he doesn't believe his actions have called into question his ability to practice law. He said he has good relationships with local officials and judges.

"I want to finish what I started," Watkins said. "I'm just going to do my job and do what's right."

Watkins said his family has moved out of the house where he practices law, although he still sometimes lives there. He said he hasn't determined whether the county attorney's office will return to his home office or remain at the courthouse, which is also in Keosauqua. Van Buren County has a population of about 7,200 people.

Mark Meek, chairman of the Van Buren County Board of Supervisors, said the interim county attorney and deputy attorney resigned after the Supreme Court decision. Jefferson County Attorney Tim Dille is assisting with cases until Watkins returns to the office.

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