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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Northern Minnesota attorney sentenced for sexual assault of four clients

After pleading guilty to sexually abusing four clients, an attorney in Itasca County was sentenced to 612 years in prison and is likely to be disbarred.

Judge Annie Claesson-Huseby handed down Powell’s 78-month term to Jesse Robert Powell, 33, on Tuesday in Itasca County District Court in Grand Rapids. Powell agreed to this sentence in September when he entered a guilty plea to four charges of criminal sexual behavior in the fourth degree.

At the end of October, Powell, a former prosecutor in Itasca County who now runs a private practice in Grand Rapids, also settled with the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility. The Supreme Court of Minnesota has not yet approved the deal that would lead to his disbarment.

Initially filed in December of last year and revised multiple times as more victims came forward, the accusations detailed a long history of sexual harassment and assault against women he represented at Powell Law, where he worked on criminal defense and family law issues.

The allegations said that he repeatedly grabbed his clients, many of whom were women going through difficult life transitions like divorce or child custody battles. The majority of the events took place at his business, while there was also mention of one at Powell’s house and another at the place of employment of at least one victim.

Before agreeing into the plea deal, Powell was facing multiple more severe allegations of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, along with racketeering, from the women who claimed to have been raped by him, including in the restroom of his legal office.

To fulfill his end of the bargain, he needed to confess to touching the genitalia of all four ladies with force and a sexual motive.

Powell “is not being held responsible for all of his attacks, or even the highest degree of his assaults,” the victim stated in a statement to the Duluth News Tribune in December. She also said that he has not been arrested and that his license to practice law has not been suspended.

The lady who retained Powell for her divorce case stated, “When you hire a lawyer, you expect to have someone who is going to assist you, to fight for you, that you can trust.” A pledge is made by them. There was a breach of oath by Powell. Powell used me because he judged me to be vulnerable. In other words, Powell is not an attorney. As the saying goes, “He preys.”

“Powell took my health, my feeling of safety, my confidence in others, and my self-worth,” the lady claimed of Powell. She has PTSD, sadness, anxiety, and panic attacks, and even using a public bathroom “instantly brings me back to Powell’s office,” she added.

She added that after paying for medical care, counseling, and other costs, she spent another $20,000 on a new attorney to handle her divorce case.

She remarked, “I feel enraged when I think of how Powell searches for his victims, under the premise of assisting us,” and that Powell had gotten away with it. While seeking assistance, I contacted Advocates for Family Peace, where I was instead given the contact information for a monster. Because of the volume of referrals they sent Powell’s way, he granted them a discount. Individuals who were already at risk of harm. He must have figured that we were easy pickings.

The lady said that there were red flags indicating Powell’s inappropriate behavior that should have been seen earlier. The Itasca County Attorney’s Office let him go in 2020 after receiving credible allegations of sexual harassment and sexism from female employees. One of the victims had also obtained a restraining order against the offender for harassment in March 2021, long before the criminal inquiry had begun.

The Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office handled the investigation, while Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson handled the prosecution to prevent any appearance of bias. All three Grand Rapids-based justices in the court’s chambers have declared their impartiality.

After Powell was first accused, the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility launched an inquiry, but he was not technically barred from practicing law until August 2, when his license was suspended for failure to pay registration fees.

Powell unreservedly admitted to seven counts of unprofessional conduct in the Oct. 26 stipulation recommending disbarment, including four counts related to the sexual assault convictions, two counts related to failing to diligently represent clients, and one related to failing to cooperate with the administrative investigation.

After Powell’s sentence on Tuesday, he was hauled into jail from the bonding facility where he had been held. If he stays on track, he may be eligible for supervised release in early 2027.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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