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Attorney Disbarred Due to “Inexplicable Incompetence”
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Summary: A Kansas attorney was disbarred when he essentially sabotaged his client’s capital murder trial.

Everyone enjoys a “crazy lawyer” story, right? Well, Dennis Hawver has really taken the cake with his rather interesting conduct during a trial and subsequent disciplinary hearing.

  
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According to the ABA Journal, Hawver decided to tell jurors that his client, who was on trial for capital murder, was a “professional drug dealer,” as well as a “shooter of people.”  He then added that the killer should be executed. In his defense, Hawver stated, “I had a single mitigator to offer the jury in sentencing, and that was my argument that my client was innocent.” You can see Hawver’s arguments about his conduct beginning at 22:38 in the video…and just wait until you see what he decided to wear.

In preparation for the trial, Hawver failed to investigate alibi witnesses, and also did not track his client’s cell phone to determine where he was at the time of the murders. He said, “I had no idea that cellphones had GPS capabilities at that time. Did you? I didn’t. If I had known it, I’d have been on it like a dog on a bone.” Hawver’s argument was that his client would have ensured all witnesses were dead if he had indeed killed the two female victims.

Check out this article with a video of an attorney losing it during a deposition.

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The trial was Hawver’s first capital murder case, and he had not conducted a murder trial in more than two decades. Hawver was also inexperienced with ABA guidelines for trying capital murder cases.

During the trial, Hawver decided to tell the jury that his client was previously convicted of voluntary manslaughter, despite the fact that prosecutors stipulated that the defendant had a prior felony without offering additional detail on the charges.



Hawver testified that his client agreed to pay him a $50,000 fee only if the jury found him not guilty. Hawver admitted he failed to seek dismissal of the capital charges, even though the Kansas Supreme Court struck down its death penalty laws.

Here’s an article from last year about an attorney who was disbarred after being busted for insider trading. 

Hawver explained that he did not have enough money to conduct a pretrial investigation, and that he failed to contact the indigent defense board to see if funding was available for the case. He could not recall whether a board representative contacted him with an offer to send an attorney to serve as co-counsel on the case, as well as investigators, consultants, and expert witnesses. Hawver did not deny that an offer of funding was presented.

As if all of the above is not unusual enough, Hawver dressed up like Thomas Jefferson while defending himself at the Kansas Supreme Court. He stated that Jefferson was his hero, and that he had a constitutional right to defend his client “as directed, instructed, and agreed” by his client, “no matter what the ABA guidelines have to say.” (You can see Hawver dressed up in the video at 5:17).

Did the attorney deserve to be disbarred?

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The Kansas Supreme Court rejected Hawver’s argument that the First Amendment protected his representation of the defendant, and that the Sixth Amendment protected the defendant’s choice to select Hawver as his attorney. The court said, “In this court’s view the essentially uncontroverted findings and conclusions regarding Hawver’s previous disciplinary history, his refusal to accept publicly financed resources to aid in his client’s defense, and his inexplicable incompetence in handing Cheatham’s case in the guilt and penalty phases of trial are more than sufficient to require disbarment.”

Here is a previous article about an attorney who was disbarred for money laundering and securities fraud.

The previous discipline included Hawver’s partaking in an attorney diversion program for violations of the ethics rules governing competence.



 

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