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Bear Lake County prosecutor resigns, is disbarred over conduct violations

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PARIS — After admitting to what the Idaho State Bar Counsel called “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice,” Bear Lake County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph R. Hayes has resigned from his position.

In a published discipline notice, the bar counsel says that Hayes resigned in place of disciplinary proceedings after engaging in sexual conduct with people involved in multiple cases he was connected to between February 2019 and October 2021.

Hayes has also been disbarred and cannot reapply for admission to the state bar for no less than five years.

“By the terms of the Idaho Supreme Court’s Order, Mr. Hayes’s name was stricken from the records of the Idaho Supreme Court and his right to practice law before the courts in the State of Idaho was terminated on April 4, 2022,” the notice reads.

According to the notice, Hayes was first accused of acts creating a conflict of interest in May 2019, when he sent sexually explicit messages to a client he was representing in guardianship and divorce cases. He also made inappropriate sexual comments to the client, the notice continues.

Hayes was implicated in similar circumstances in December 2020, when he sent sexually explicit messages to a client he was representing in cases regarding protection orders, divorce and property division. The notice says that the two engaged in sexual conduct on one occasion.

Then, after being sworn in as the county prosecutor in January 2021, Hayes again exchanged sexually explicit messages with a woman who made allegations of domestic violence.

Hayes filed four felony charges against the woman’s husband, the documents show, then engaged in sexual conduct with her “on several occasions” in his law office.

The documents show that Hayes admitted to all allegations.

Bear Lake County Commissioners Bradley Jensen and Rex Payne both told EastIdahoNews.com that they were unaware of the allegations until they received official letters from the state.

“I was pretty shocked,” Jensen said, “because I know Joe Hayes had wanted that job really bad. … All I got from him was a letter that said he was resigning. Since then, I’ve heard that he’s been disbarred.”

Payne said that not only were the commissioners unaware of the circumstances that led to Hayes’ resignation and disbarment, they were never clued into the investigation at any point.

“We really didn’t get into it, as county commissioners. It was handled more by the state bar — it really wasn’t anything to do with us directly,” Payne said. “We were probably the last ones to really have any idea what was going on and didn’t really know until some of these official notices came out the last few days.”

Despite never being involved in the investigation, the commission is now tasked with finding Hayes’ replacement.

“This position is left to the county commissioners (to fill),” Jensen said. “What we will do is appoint somebody for a period of time, or maybe the whole term, what’s left of the term, then it, of course, goes back to election.”

For now, Adam McKenzie, who was appointed as deputy prosecuting attorney by Hayes before his resignation, will serve as the county’s lead prosecutor.

But, in time, the commission will field applications and vet applicants as it prepares to tap a new county attorney. When that decision is made, Jensen said, the commission will have the power to select whether the temporary prosecutor will serve for the remaining three years of what was to be Hayes’ term or a lesser period.

According to Payne, applications have already been received. But, there is no definite timetable for the selection process.

“We haven’t decided when we’re going to actually make that decision, but it will be made in a public meeting, in a county commissioners’ meeting,” Payne said.

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