After the congressional candidate downplayed the Jan. 6 events in a televised debate in June, an attorney at the Wyoming State Bar filed a complaint against her.
The Wyoming State Bar declined to open a disciplinary investigation against Harriet Hageman, a natural resources attorney, in July after another attorney filed a complaint against the congressional nominee, according to records shared with WyoFile.
Darby Hoggatt filed the complaint after watching Hageman debate with Rep. Liz Cheney on June 30. During the televised event, Hageman downplayed the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol, saying there were “serious questions about the 2020 election.”
“As a practicing attorney in the state of Wyoming, I believe it is your agency’s duty to investigate Ms. Hageman, who appears to endorse and support former President Trump’s attempted coup on January 6, 2021,” Hoggatt wrote in the complaint. “If a Wyoming attorney is helping to overthrow our democracy, how can she keep her license to practice law?”
The complaint raises similar concerns to a letter 41 Wyoming lawyers sent to Hageman earlier this month, warning them not to make false statements about the 2020 election. The group argues that disseminating election misinformation is professional misconduct and a violation of the attorney’s oath. Still, the group chose to mail the letter directly to Hageman rather than filing it as a complaint with the Bar Association.
After WyoFile reported on the letter last week, Hoggatt shared copies of his complaint and the bar’s response with a reporter.
In his complaint, Hoggatt compared Hageman to Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell — two attorneys who faced disciplinary action from their respective bar associations for their legal work attempting to overturn the 2020 election.
However, there is a difference between Hageman’s “political posturing and the behavior of Giuliani and other Trump attorneys,” Bar Counsel Mark Gifford wrote in a July 5 reply to Hoggatt. while Hageman spoke outside of a court hearing.
At the time of Hoggatt’s complaint, Hageman had yet to take a definitive stance on the 2020 election, instead reiterating that there were unknowns, including the results. But just before the primary, Hageman said during a candidates’ forum in Casper that “the election was absolutely rigged.”
This particular case inspired the letter written by 41 of her colleagues this month. The authors allege that such a definitive statement violates a specific section of the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct. Gifford also referred to the rule in his reply to Hoggatt.
“The only possible rule applicable to their conduct is Rule 8.4(c), which prohibits an attorney from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deception or misrepresentation,” Gifford wrote. “However, the conduct you allude to towards Hageman could just as easily be seen as exercising her right to freedom of expression, by voicing an opinion held by a large number of people, some of whom, unfortunately, are lawyers.”
The bar association’s response to Hoggatt preceded Hageman’s more recent and more direct false statements about the 2020 election and opened an opportunity to file a new complaint with the state bar association. However, because such proceedings are confidential, Sharon Wilkinson, Executive Director of Public Prosecutions, would neither confirm nor deny the filing of such complaints. Wilkinson also declined to comment to WyoFile on Hoggatt’s complaint.
Wyoming Bar Counsel Mark Gifford is responsible for bringing disciplinary actions against attorneys in accordance with professional rules.
“It’s a big job and it comes with a lot of cases. He handles a lot of complaints about attorneys and determines whether or not they have any kind of merit,” said Bill Schwartz, an attorney, formerly of WyoFile, in describing the bar association’s disciplinary process.
Complaints can range from a client claiming to have been taken advantage of by a lawyer, to lawyers reporting the behavior of their colleagues. As an attorney, Gifford also has the ability to take disciplinary action himself should he become aware of what appears to be a violation.
If the legal counsel determines that a complaint has merit, he or she submits the case to the Board of Professional Responsibility, which is composed of six attorneys and three non-attorneys who serve three-year terms. The Board acts as a hearing body for all legal matters and has the power to issue private reprimands. In more serious cases of misconduct, she may issue a written recommendation to the Wyoming Supreme Court for censure, suspension, or disqualification. Ultimately, the Wyoming Supreme Court is the only body with the authority to order public disciplinary action.
The proceeding remains confidential unless a public disciplinary action is taken.
Hageman did not respond to WyoFile’s request for comment.
This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent, nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and politics.