GREEN RIVER – A former Rawlins public defender was the subject of disciplinary action from the Wyoming State Bar Association this week.
A sexual relationship between former public defender John Joseph DeLeon and a woman on probation in the same county led to DeLeon’s release from his job in 2018, and to the public censure issued by the Wyoming Supreme Court this week.
DeLeon, who served in the Rawlins Office of the Public Defender until September of 2018, was issued a public reprimand by the State Supreme Court on Thursday. After leaving Rawlins, DeLeon took a job as a civil attorney with the Sweetwater County Attorney’s Office.
The public censure stemmed from DeLeon’s conduct during his employment with the county attorney’s office this year. The Wyoming Supreme Court found that he had made misleading statements to a law enforcement officer regarding the place of residence of a female registered sex offender who resided with DeLeon for approximately one week.
According to the Order of Public Censure issued by the Wyoming Supreme Court, DeLeon has been licensed to practice in Wyoming since 2001. Beginning in 2018, while he was employed as a public defender in Rawlins, he had a sexual relationship with Candice Nichole Cortez, a Rawlins resident who, in 2016, pleaded guilty to second degree sexual abuse of a minor.
DeLeon was not Cortez’ attorney in her criminal proceedings, according to the public censure, and the two never had a lawyer-client relationship. Cortez was sentenced in 2016 to serve three to eight years in a Wyoming Department of Corrections facility; however, her sentence was suspended.
In 2018, when DeLeon left the Rawlins Public Defender’s Office and moved to Green River, where he took a job as a civil attorney with the Sweetwater County Attorney’s Office, his relationship with Cortez continued. As a part of her probation, Cortez was required to disclose her address, and from March 11 through March 17 of this year, she resided with DeLeon in Green River. She did not disclose his address as her own.
As a condition of her probation, Cortez was not allowed to reside within 1,000 feet of a public school. DeLeon’s address, where Cortez spent six nights in March, was less than 200 feet from a public school.
Cortez has been charged in Sweetwater County with violations of the Wyoming Sex Offender Registration Act, and there are proceeding underway to revoke her probation in Carbon County.
Lt. Joseph Tomich, who investigated the incident in Sweetwater County, said that DeLeon was “consistently deceptive” and that he tried to divert questions to “irrelevant topics and avoided answering questions directly” when interviewed about Cortez.
Location history from Cortez’ cell phone showed she did spend several nights at DeLeon’s Green River address, and she also admitted it on further questioning, saying she intentionally omitted telling probation and parole she was staying at his address “to avoid causing problems for him, as their relationship got him fired from a job in Rawlins.”
When additional charges were filed against Cortez, he contacted bar counsel and self-reported his conduct. According to the public censure, he has expressed “extreme shame” for his conduct, and he feels as if he has harmed his reputation and his career. DeLeon admitted that he had made the misrepresentations and stipulated that such conduct violated the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct.
DeLeon’s candor in self-reporting the incident, his cooperation with the bar counsel disciplinary process, the absence of any prior discipline, a heartfelt expression of remorse for his conduct as well as DeLeon’s extensive history of exemplary pro bono service to indigent clients, were taken into context when recommending public censure. The Court also ordered DeLeon to pay an administrative fee in the amount of $750 and costs of $50 to the Wyoming State Bar.
DeLeon did not respond to a request for comment from the Rawlins Times.
According to a report in 2016 by the Casper Star Tribune, Cortez plead guilty to second-degree sexual abuse of a minor for inappropriately touching a 5-year-old child on multiple occasions when she had been babysitting in 2015. At the time, Cortez had asked the judge if she could avoid prison time to raise her daughter.
The judge told her then that her relationship with her probation officer would be critical to her future.