Crime & Courts

Kansas Supreme Court disbars defense attorney Dennis Hawver for ‘inexplicable incompetence’

Dennis Hawver, center, was one of seven Republican gubernatorial candidates to speak at a 2006 forum in Wichita.
Dennis Hawver, center, was one of seven Republican gubernatorial candidates to speak at a 2006 forum in Wichita. File photo

The Kansas Supreme Court voted unanimously to disbar Dennis Hawver, an Ozawkie attorney who has previously run for governor as a Republican and for attorney general and Congress as a Libertarian.

In a decision handed down Friday, the court ruled that Hawver showed “inexplicable incompetence” as a defense attorney for Phillip Cheatham during a 2005 murder trial in Shawnee County. The court previously reversed Cheatham’s conviction and ordered a new trial in 2013, ruling that Hawver had failed to properly represent his client.

The 2013 ruling states that Hawver told prospective jurors that his client was “a cocaine dealer and that Cheatham had killed another cocaine dealer with a gun.” He also failed to present evidence that might have proven that Cheatham was not in Topeka at the time of murder for which he was charged.

The court’s disbarment ruling notes that Hawver also told jurors that they should execute the killer in his closing argument. Cheatham was sentenced to death before his conviction was overturned.

The disbarment ruling states that the totality of evidence leads to a “virtually inescapable conclusion” that Hawver failed to meet the state’s professional conduct code while representing Cheatham.

Hawver dressed as Thomas Jefferson, wearing a powdered wig and 18th century suit, at his disbarment hearing in September, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal, and yelled at the court, “I am incompetent!" while banging his fists on a lectern.

The Capital-Journal also reported in September that Hawver has filed a federal lawsuit against the Kansas Supreme Court, contending that his First Amendment rights have been violated by the court’s disciplinary action against him.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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