Court: If Exam OK, Ex-Priest Can Join Iowa Bar

By Abby Simons
Des Moines Register
September 22, 2007

The Iowa Supreme Court will allow an Alaska priest laicized for allegations of sexual abuse to join the Iowa Bar Association if it is revealed that he passed the bar exam.

Michael Patrick Nash, 57, a graduate of Creighton University's law school in Omaha, was denied admission to the Iowa Bar Association in 2006 because of questionable moral character based on the purported sexual abuse.

Nash took the Iowa bar examination in July 2006, but because of the dispute by the Iowa Board of Law Examiners, the result was not published pending the court's determination of whether he could join the Iowa bar.

Nash formally left the priesthood in 2005 after allegations that he had sexually abused boys in the remote areas of the Juneau archdiocese in the 1980s. He was never prosecuted or found guilty, but admitted to requesting foot and neck massages, administering bare-buttock spankings and making boys do calisthenics in their underwear as punishment for misbehavior.

In denying Nash to the Iowa bar, the Iowa Board of Law Examiners contended that such actions "raise character concerns adequate to deny him permission to practice in Iowa."

In a 6-1 decision, the Iowa Supreme Court disagreed.

"While we certainly do not condone Nash's disciplinary techniques, we do not believe such noncriminal acts from seventeen (or more) years ago reflect poorly on his present moral character and fitness to practice law." The justices wrote.

Nash's attorney, Mark McCormick of Des Moines, declined to discuss the decision.

"I think the decision will speak for itself," he said Friday.

Nash, who currently lives in Washington state, could not be reached. McCormick said he was not present for the Aug. 30 oral arguments before the high court.

Jeanie Kunkle Vaudt, assistant attorney general who represented the seven-member Iowa Board of Law Examiners, was unavailable Friday.

The court said that while Nash's methods of discipline would be considered inappropriate today, "when viewed in the social and historical context in which they were applied, they appear significantly less sinister," adding that Nash has also since apologized to the children he improperly disciplined.

Reporter Abby Simons can be reached at (515) 284-8136 or


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.