American lawyer turns up for his disciplinary hearing dressed as Thomas Jefferson, complete with 18th Century wig
US lawyers can be rather snooty about the wigs worn by British barristers and solicitor-advocates. Indeed, at times the strength of the vitriol directed towards UK legal headgear is such that an amateur psychologist may diagnose a suppressed longing to be able to dress up to court too.
The incredible story of Ira Dennis Hawver lends weight to this theory.
American criminal law attorney Hawver spent last week before the Kansas Supreme Court, where he was seeking to challenge disciplinary findings that he provided ineffective assistance to a defendant sentenced to death whose murder conviction has since been overturned.
The twist? Hawver, who was representing himself, elected to dress as US founding father Thomas Jefferson for the hearing. As you can see from the screenshots, the eccentric lawyer’s period costume included a cheap-looking white wig.
Alas, as viewers of the proceedings below will quickly grasp — yes, the whole thing is on YouTube (clip embedded below) — this wasn’t the beginning of a heroic performance that would make the Kansas justices question the past treatment of Hawver, and the wider US legal system question the wisdom of its decision to ditch wigs during the mid-19th century.
Instead, what followed was a pretty weird attempt to lend emotional emphasis to the aspects of the US Constitution which Hawver was relying upon in his defence (Thomas Jefferson, in case you’d forgotten, co-authored of the Declaration of Independence and US constitution). The tone was very much set in Hawver’s opening statement, which began:
“I appear before you today dressed as Thomas Jefferson, who is my hero among the founders. And I wore this outfit because today the issue before you is whether or not the constitution of the United States as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court has bearing on our rights.”
In fairness to Hawver, he was facing an uphill struggle from the start, having bungled his representation of the defendant in the original murder case so badly that a disciplinary tribunal recommended he be struck off.
In a nutshell, in the 2005 case Hawver is reported to have failed to present an alibi defence — which he knew of — that put defendant Phillip Cheatham in Chicago at the time of the two killings in Kansas. Not knowing how to trace the location of the defendant’s mobile phone calls, Hawver instead ran a defence, reports The Topeka Capital Journal, in which he described his client as a drug-dealing killer who wouldn’t have needed to fire so many shots to kill the two murdered women, and who wouldn’t have left a third woman alive to identify him. Cheatham has said he felt Hawver forced him into approving the strategy after the lawyer failed to submit an alibi defence.
The Kansas Supreme Court is currently considering its decision. Meanwhile, Hawver has launched a claim seeking damages and a court order blocking his possible disbarment.