By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
A Fort Collins, Colorado, attorney has made a second request to the Wyoming State Bar that it publicly investigate Wyoming Republican and U.S. Congress candidate Harriet Hageman in response to her public questioning the results of the 2020 presidential election.
“The Wyoming State Bar is in a unique position to properly inform the people of Wyoming about the truth by forcing Ms. Hageman to appear before it,” Darby Hoggatt says in his letter to the State Bar sent Monday. The letter was addressed to Sharon Wilkinson, director of the Wyoming State Bar.
Hoggatt was born in Newcastle and earned his Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Wyoming. He has expressed frustration that the State Bar hasn’t investigated Hageman for reiterating the claims of former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen.
Most of his three-page letter expresses frustration that the State Bar didn’t spend much time investigating his first letter, which was rejected in early July.
Attorney Mark Gifford, who represents the organization, spent less than one business day considering the first letter, where Hoggatt requested the agency initiate a disciplinary investigation of Hageman.
“I want to express my extreme disappointment that your organization invested so little time and critical legal and ethical analysis into whether disciplining Ms. Hageman was warranted, especially considering the threat to our democracy that Ms. Hageman posed,” Hoggatt says in Monday’s letter.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Hoggatt said he had not received a response to his second letter.
Wilkinson told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday afternoon it is the policy of the State Bar to not comment on complaints.
If Gifford were to determine that the complaint should be considered, he would then present the case to the Board of Professional Responsibility. The board then determines if a case will be forwarded to the Wyoming Supreme Court, handled within its own body or by the bar’s Review and Oversight Committee.
Wilkinson said cases where only private reprimand or discipline is recommended do not go to the Supreme Court. A disbarment, suspension or public censure are the only actions taken against an attorney that becomes public and can only be issued by the Supreme Court.
Legality vs. Popularity
Hoggatt said he believes the Wyoming State Bar didn’t want to investigate Hageman because she is popular in the state. Hageman beat U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney by 38 percentage points in the August primary.
“I do not believe that your organization’s standard of review, nor your mandate, is based upon popularity,” Hoggatt writes. “I expected a more legally based critical analysis with the reputation of our Bar in mind.”
Gifford said in his response to Hoggatt’s first letter that there were significant differences between Hageman’s comments and the actions of Rudy Giulani and other Trump-supporting attorneys because they offered their statements before a tribunal, not in a public forum. He did, however, agree with Hoggatt’s assertion that Hageman’s claims were false.
Gifford said the only possible rule that could be applicable to Hageman’s actions is Rule 8.4(c) of the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibits a lawyer from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.
Hoggatt, who is licensed to practice law in Wyoming, believes the rule extends to an attorney’s actions outside the courtroom as attorneys are held to a higher standard as it relates to free speech and the First Amendment. He provided the example that it is an attorney’s obligation to inform the state bar if he or she pleads guilty or is found guilty to a crime such as driving under the influence of alcohol. He also mentioned how in Giuliani’s case, a New York court ruled that out-of-court conduct is under the jurisdiction of state bar organizations.
‘Critical Window’ Missed
Hoggatt initiated his first letter in response to Hageman’s comments at a late June debate in Sheridan. At this event, Hageman complained about the Jan. 6 Committee, endorsed a film that relies on questionable evidence to claim drop ballot boxes were stuffed and said questions needed to be asked about election integrity on a national level. She remained vague about whether she believed there was election fraud in Wyoming in 2020.
Hoggatt said the Bar missed a “critical window” by choosing not to investigate Hageman at this juncture, as many people cast early and absentee ballots before she made more direct comments on this topic at a forum in early August.
At that event, Hageman clarified and upped the ante on her views about the 2020 election, saying it was “rigged” and a “travesty.”
Hoggatt said the State Bar “enabled” Hageman “to continue to misinform the Wyoming electorate.”
“The State Bar now has an opportunity to redeem its reputation and restore integrity and honor to its membership,” Hoggatt writes.
Power In Numbers
Hoggatt referenced two recent letters sent to Hageman by a group of 41 and 51 attorneys respectively, asking that she cease her rhetoric stating that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
“They have done the work that Mr. Gifford was not willing to do prior to the Republican primary,” Hoggatt writes.
Hageman issued a scathing response to the lawyer’s first letter, which she described as “threatening.”
“Make no mistake, this letter is meant as a threat against me simply because I hold a different political opinion – one that is shared by a majority of Wyoming voters,” Hageman said in a September press release. “And this is exactly what Liz Cheney’s allies and the left do to Trump supporters and conservatives at every turn – attempt to threaten, intimidate, and cancel anyone who doesn’t see the world the way they do.”
Hageman supported Cheney during her 2016 campaign and expressed a preference for Ted Cruz over former President Donald Trump in that election. It was not until she announced her campaign in September 2021 that she first spoke out publicly against Cheney. Hoggatt saw this as an example of opportunism on Hageman’s part for the purpose of gaining a position of power in government.
Hoggatt wants the State Bar to ask Hageman:
• Do you have any evidence that would be admissible in a court of law supporting your position that there was widespread voter fraud that would have changed the outcome of the 2020 presidential election?
• Were you aware of the outcome of 60-plus lawsuits filed by then President Trump alleging that the 2020 U.S. presidential was illegitimate?
• Did you knowingly mislead the people of Wyoming when you spread the “big lie” in public forums?
• Did you spread the “big lie” for your political gain?
Hoggatt said if Wilkinson and Gifford still choose not to investigate Hageman, he asks they appoint outside legal counsel that will, or resign their jobs so the matter can be handled before the November election.
“History will judge Mr. Gifford and yourself as courageous Wyomingites, like Representative Liz Cheney; or as complicit in the disgraceful spread of propaganda,” Hoggatt writes.