The Supreme Court of Kansas has disbarred an attorney for his conduct as defense counsel in a capital murder case. In the Matter of Hawver, a Kansas attorney represented a criminal defendant accused of murder, despite having no prior experience trying capital murder cases. He also did not associate with competent co-counsel, or obtain additional training or education to become competent.
The attorney only spent approximately 60 hours preparing for the trial and failed to fully investigate the facts. He was also frequently unaware of proper trial procedures. After a jury trial, the client was convicted. The client was sentenced to death, but his conviction was later overturned on appeal, due to ineffective assistance of the attorney.
Subsequently, the Kansas Disciplinary Administrator Panel filed a disciplinary complaint against the attorney. The attorney answered the complaint, raising numerous erroneous defenses, including that his conduct was protected by his right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that disciplining him would violate his client’s Sixth Amendment right to be represented by counsel in a criminal proceeding.
The Disciplinary Panel found that the attorney’s conduct caused actual harm to his client by depriving him of his constitutional right to assistance of counsel, and prejudiced the administration of justice, by requiring a new trial. The Panel thus recommended disbarment.
The Supreme Court of Kanas accepted the Panel’s recommendation and found that the attorney’s conduct violated numerous Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct, including Rule 1.1 regarding competency, and Rule 8.4(g) by engaging in conduct adversely reflecting on lawyer’s fitness to practice law. Due to the severity of the violations and the attorney’s “inexplicable incompetence”, the Court disbarred the attorney.
Decision: In the Matter of Hawver