The Wyoming State Bar declined to initiate a disciplinary investigation into Harriet Hageman, a natural resources attorney, in July after another lawyer filed a grievance against the congressional candidate, according to records shared with WyoFile.
Darby Hoggatt submitted the complaint after watching Hageman debate Rep. Liz Cheney on June 30. During the televised event, Hageman downplayed the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and said there were “serious questions about the 2020 election.”
“As a licensed attorney in the State of Wyoming, I believe it is incumbent upon your agency to investigate Ms. Hageman who appears to advocate and support the coup that former President Trump attempted on January 6, 2021,” Hoggatt wrote in the complaint. “If a Wyoming attorney supports the overthrow of our democracy, how can she maintain her license to practice law?”
The complaint raises similar concerns to those in a letter sent by 41 Wyoming legal professionals to Hageman earlier this month, cautioning her against making false statements about the 2020 election. The group argues that spreading election misinformation is professional misconduct and violates the oath of attorney. Still, the group opted to send the letter directly to Hageman rather than submitting it as a complaint to the bar.
After WyoFile reported on the letter last week, Hoggatt shared copies of his grievance and the bar’s response with a reporter.
In his complaint, Hoggatt likened Hageman to Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell — two attorneys that faced disciplinary action by their respective state bars for their legal work attempting to overturn the 2020 election.
There is a distinction, however, between Hageman’s “political posturing and the conduct of Giuliani and other Trump lawyers” Bar Counsel Mark Gifford wrote in a response to Hoggatt on July 5. Giuliani and others faced disciplinary sanctions for making false statements before a tribunal, whereas Hageman was speaking outside of a court proceeding.
At the time of Hoggatt’s complaint, Hageman had not yet taken a definitive stance on the 2020 election, repeating instead that there were unknowns, including the results. But shortly before the primary election, Hageman said “absolutely the election was rigged” during a candidate forum in Casper.
That particular instance inspired the letter penned by 41 of her colleagues this month. The authors allege that such a definitive statement is in violation of one particular section of the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct. Gifford also pointed to the rule in his response to Hoggatt.
“The only possible rule applicable to her conduct is Rule 8.4(c) which prohibits a lawyer from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,” Gifford wrote. However, “The conduct you point to with Hageman could just as easily be cast as the exercise of her right of free speech in voicing an opinion that is held by a large number of people, some of them, regrettably, lawyers.”
The bar’s response to Hoggatt preceded Hageman’s more recent and direct false statements about the 2020 election, opening the possibility for a new complaint to be filed with the state bar. However, because such proceedings are confidential, State Bar Executive Director Sharon Wilkinson would neither confirm nor deny that any such complaints had been filed. Wilkinson also declined to comment to WyoFile regarding Hoggatt’s complaint.
Wyoming Bar Counsel Mark Gifford is responsible for bringing actions for discipline against lawyers under rules of professional conduct.
“It’s a big job and he brings a lot of cases. He processes a lot of complaints about lawyers and determines whether they have some kind of merit or not,” Bill Schwartz, an attorney, previously told WyoFile in describing the bar’s disciplinary process.
Complaints can range from a client alleging they’ve been taken advantage of by an attorney to lawyers reporting the conduct of their peers. As counsel, Gifford also has the ability to bring disciplinary actions on his own, should he become aware of something that appears to be a violation.
If counsel determines that a complaint has merit, he then presents the case to the Board of Professional Responsibility, which is made up of six lawyers and three non-lawyers who serve three-year terms. The board acts as the hearing body for all attorney-discipline matters and has the ability to issue private reprimands. For more serious cases of misconduct, it can make a written recommendation to the Wyoming Supreme Court for public censure, suspension or disbarment. Ultimately, the Wyoming Supreme Court is the only body with authority to order public discipline.
Proceedings remain confidential unless a public discipline is taken.
Hageman did not respond to WyoFile’s request for comment.