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Utah attorney barred from practice for 3 years; He says he's done with law anyway

By Annie Knox, KSL | Posted - Oct. 30, 2018 at 8:47 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah attorney has been barred from practicing law in the Beehive State for the next three years after he failed to contact witnesses in a death penalty case, didn't file or ask for documents in other proceedings and didn't meet with a client he was representing.

Sean Young said he admitted to the violations identified in four complaints lodged with the Utah State Bar to put the disciplinary case behind him, but he doesn't agree with them and isn't liable for them under the terms of a settlement he signed.

"I was a good lawyer and represented people fairly and justly," he said Tuesday.

Complaints in 16 other cases were dropped as part of the agreement Young and the Utah bar's professional conduct office reached in July. The bar's move to suspend his license, effective in September, came to light Tuesday when his client, prominent Latino activist Tony Yapias, appeared in front of a judge in an evidence-tampering case without an attorney by his side.

The bar identified 17 violations of its rules across four different cases that range from Young not refunding fees to clients in a timely way, to misrepresenting to a state bar conduct committee the reason he did not file a petition in an immigration case.

In the capital murder case of Douglas Lovell — a Clearfield man twice convicted of kidnapping and raping Joyce Yost, of South Ogden, then killing her to silence her testimony in 1985 — Young failed to interview all but two of 18 witnesses, including some who testified at trial, according to the bar.

Young did not question those who took the witness stand about Lovell's remorse or their belief that he could do well on parole. And he "ineffectively capitulated" to concerns from attorneys for the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which restricted bishops from testifying about whether they believed Lovell had remorse, according to the agreement Young signed. Lovell has appealed, saying Young was ineffective.

Another attorney has appealed a case of one of Young's former clients, arguing Young didn't meet with the defendant or gather evidence, and didn't object to "highly prejudicial gang and tattoo evidence."

He didn't file court documents requesting an undocumented client be allowed to lawfully remain in the U.S. despite being granted more time to file them and was not timely in returning fees she had paid him, the court documents show.

Young told the Deseret News on Tuesday he has wanted to leave behind his career as an attorney for five years and plans to find a new line of work, possibly in sales. He believes that after the complaint from Lovell, others he has represented reported violations of bar conduct in hopes it would persuade a judge to revisit their cases.

Yapias, a longtime advocate in Utah's Hispanic community, was scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday for holding a woman in her house for too long and deleting texts with evidence from her phone, both misdemeanors. He was originally charged with rape, but he and Young reached a plea deal with prosecutors in August.

Young said he had believed the Utah State Bar would allow him to finish out the case so Yapias would not need to find and pay a new attorney, but the settlement document he signed in July does not mention such an exception. A prosecutor pointed out to him Tuesday that the bar's website showed his license was suspended, he said.

"The blame's on me for not following up and understanding," he said.

Third District Judge Randall Skanchy on Tuesday postponed the hearing by a week, saying he wanted Yapias to have an attorney at the time of his sentencing.

Young said he could have called another attorney to represent Yapias at the hearing Tuesday but negotiated a postponement because he and his client didn't know the details of a statement that the victim intended to make in court.

Young said that while he will not be representing Yapias, he will be there to support him on Nov. 6.

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