In one of the more bizarre ethics cases in recent years, Kansas attorney Dennis Hawver was disbarred after botching the defense of a capital murder case. Despite the life or death stakes, Hawver did little to prepare the defense. He admitted failing to investigate alibi witnesses and chose not to track his client’s cell phone records, which would have helped to establish an alibi. He even failed to move to dismiss the capital charge after the Kansas Supreme Court struck down the death penalty. He admitted to having no knowledge of the ABA Guidelines for trying capital cases. He further conceded that he failed to contact the indigent defense board to explore whether funds were available to assist in the defense, and did not dispute that the board had made an offer of co-counsel, investigator, consultants and experts.
During the criminal trial, Hawver described his client to the jury as a “professional drug dealer” and a “shooter of people”. One of his strategy decisions was to argue that if his client had shot the two victims he would have never left the witness alive. Another was to tell the jury that his client had previously been convicted of voluntary manslaughter, despite a stipulation that the jury would only be told that the client had a prior felony.
The final twist came at his hearing before the Kansas Supreme Court. Hawver defended himself pro se and appeared in 18th century attire. He claimed that he was dressed as Thomas Jefferson. Hawver claimed this was a symbolic testament to his client’s constitutional right to hire him as counsel “no matter what the ABA Guidelines have to say”. The Kansas Supreme Court was not amused.
For the complete ABA Journal story on the case, including video of Hawver dressed as Thomas Jefferson, click here.