Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Attorney Files Suit against High Court

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Attorney Files Suit against High Court

Article excerpt

Dennis Hawver, an Ozawkie attorney facing disciplinary action for his defense work in a death penalty case, filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against the Kansas Supreme Court seeking damages and a court order blocking his possible disbarment.

Hawver represented capital murder defendant Phillip D. Cheatham Jr., who was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in connection with the slayings of two women in 2003 in southeast Topeka. Early last year, the Kansas Supreme Court reversed Cheatham's convictions in the slayings and ordered a new trial, ruling Cheatham received ineffective assistance of counsel from Hawver.

Hawver filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Topeka just three days before he is to appear before the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday to argue what discipline he should receive.

Hawver is suing that court, the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys, and Chief Judge J. Thomas Marten of the U.S. District Court in Kansas. Hawver is representing himself in the Kansas Supreme Court and federal court.

"I'm trying to stand up for my rights," Hawver said during an interview Wednesday. "I have a First Amendment right to present my client's trial the way he wants."

Hawver said he would appear during the Friday hearing.

"I want to talk to them," Hawver said of the Supreme Court.

Hawver said that court's disciplinary decision against him could have a "chilling effect" on other lawyers if they are told by the Kansas Supreme Court how to conduct the defenses of their clients.

Hawver contends Kansas judicial agencies sought disciplinary action against him in retaliation because he testified in Cheatham's appeal of his conviction. Hawver also contends the alleged retaliation stems from his following the "signed written instructions" of Cheatham in what Hawver said was the trial strategy Cheatham wanted him to follow.

In that strategy, Hawver described Cheatham as "an experienced and highly street-smart and intelligent criminal" who was a cocaine dealer convicted of killing another "dope dealer. …

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