John Bujak, legally unscathed by criminal charges stemming from his handling of contract funds while he was Canyon County prosecutor, now could lose his law license in connection with those same events.
Bradley Andrews, bar counsel for the Idaho State Bar, filed a complaint July 9 with the bar association’s Professional Conduct Board, seeking disbarment and unspecified restitution. Bujak has 21 days to respond, or longer if he seeks an extension, Andrews said Monday.
Bujak could not be reached for comment Monday.
WHAT HAPPENED THEN?
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At issue is Bujak’s handling of a $600,000 annual contract for the Canyon prosecutor’s office to handle misdemeanor cases for the city of Nampa. The contract began in July 2009, about six months after Bujak took office as prosecutor. He resigned in September 2010, unable to pay about $300,000 county leaders he said he owed from the contract.
Prosecutors alleged Bujak appropriated the money for his own debts and expenses rather than forwarding the money to the county as promised. Acting as his own defense attorney, Bujak acknowledged that he took the money not required for contract expenses, but argued that the arrangement was understood and approved by county leaders. He noted that county leaders approved having Nampa deposit contract payments into a “trust account” only Bujak could access and contended they only accused him after they were embarrassed by public pressure, including a public records lawsuit.
Between November 2012 and March 2013, one jury acquitted Bujak and two were unable to agree on verdicts concerning his handling of public funds.
The bar association, which previously sought disciplinary action against Bujak for actions he took as a private attorney before becoming prosecutor, also received complaints about his handling of the Nampa contract but delayed investigating those issues until after the related criminal cases were resolved, Andrews said.
Now, the State Bar’s investigation has concluded, and Andrews is seeking to disbar Bujak, citing violations of 12 specific professional conduct rules for Idaho attorneys. Previously, Bujak’s law license was voluntarily suspended during the criminal prosecutions, then restored in August 2013. He ran for Idaho governor as an independent in 2014.
The State Bar’s 54-page complaint against Bujak cites many of the same facts and allegations made in the criminal trials, including an October 2009 county resolution that states Bujak “could himself realize no financial advantage from his provision of prosecutorial service to the city.”
At the time of that resolution, which Bujak confirmed was accurate, the then-prosecutor had already removed $30,000 in contract funds for his personal use, the complaint states. By the following June, that amount had grown to $236,000.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Once Bujak has responded to the complaint, a Professional Conduct Board hearing committee — two attorneys and a non-attorney — will be formed and a hearing date set, Andrews said.
That committee, drawn from a different district in Idaho, will preside over the hearing and make a recommendation to the Idaho Supreme Court, which would ultimately decide what, if any, punishment Bujak should receive. Possible sanctions range from public reprimand or censure to license suspension or disbarment, which lasts five years.
The complaint details violations of a dozen rules governing Idaho lawyers’ conduct, including knowingly making a false statement in court and disobeying an obligation to court rules; engaging in dishonesty or misrepresentation; and “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.” Other alleged violations addressed Bujak’s conduct as prosecutor in dealing with county leaders as his clients, including: failing to explain a situation to the extent reasonably necessary for the client to make an informed decision; engaging in a conflict in which the lawyer’s personal interests will limit the client’s interests; failing to hold client’s property separate from the lawyer’s property; and failing to promptly pay a client funds to which they are entitled.