Thomas Burr,
Attorney John Hummel, right, speaks to a client in 6th District Court in Richfield March 19, 2002. Hummel is facing criminal charges accusing him of extorting money from indigent clients he was hired to defend.

PANGUITCH, Garfield County — A southern Utah attorney is facing criminal charges in connection with allegations that he extorted his clients.

John Hummel, 54, is facing three counts of theft by extortion, a second-degree felony; two counts of theft by extortion and two counts of attempted theft by deception, third-degree felonies, for allegedly extorting money and property from indigent clients.

Hummel worked as a legal defender for Garfield County and was paid by the county to represent individuals who couldn't afford a private attorney. Hummel is accused of going to as many as seven people and asking them to pay him directly, according to charges filed in 6th District Court.

"As (one) victim talked to defendant Hummel about representation, defendant Hummel informed the victim that the victim would have a better chance for a deal and (be) released from jail that day if he hired (Hummel) privately," the charges state.

In that instance, the victim signed over rights to his pistol, rifle and shotgun and signed a promissory note stating he would pay Hummel $5,000, according to the charges. Other people also gave Hummel money, in addition to guns, electronics and archery equipment.

The charges state that the victims were "naïve to the legal process, and had (they) understood it better, (they) never would have agreed" to Hummel's requests for cash and property.

Garfield County sheriff's spokeswoman Becki Bronson said the allegations came to light when a defendant approached a prosecutor and complained about having to pay for a court-appointed lawyer. Hummel was terminated in November 2009.

Bronson said the case is really about the violation of public trust.

"I think that is the heart of this particular case," Bronson said. "He was someone that people who had nothing were trusting … to look out for their best interest and defend them properly — and our taxpayer money was going to Mr. Hummel."

Hummel was charged in March for charges dating back to 2008. Though he lives in St. George, he drove 882 miles round-trip to Randolph, Rich County, when he was ordered to report to jail to be booked on the charges. There, he posted $20,000 bail.

Booking mugs are not routinely taken in Randolph when defendants are booked into jail. Hummel would not comment if that was why he made the trip to Rich County, but he did issue a statement about the charges.

"I wholeheartedly dispute the charges filed against me," Hummel said. "Those who know me will know better than to believe these allegations."

He said he will "eagerly look forward" to having his day in court.

"I have much I would like to say about matters in Garfield County," Hummel said. "Unfortunately, I am unable to discuss the case until the day of trial."

A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for June 20.