Was There Madness To His Method?

A big time lawyer says he's insane... And saves his career

Indeed, everyone was hard-pressed later on to recall examples of Hoover's madness, or even of behavior inconsistent with how he'd always been. That made his thefts even more inexplicable to everyone after his law partners unhappily confronted him in September 1984.

When that happened, Hoover quit the firm and immediately sought legal and mental-health help. It took months for the State Bar to crank up its case against him.

THE STATE BAR'S secret disciplinary proceedings against Charlie Hoover started as they would with any other lawyer.

Jennings, Strouss filed an official complaint against Hoover soon after he left the firm. Investigators looked into the case, and in September 1985--a year after he was caught--the State Bar formally charged him.

During that year, Hoover attended regular sessions with psychologist Gregory Crow and met twice with psychiatrist Robert Shapiro. He didn't work for a few months, then returned in January 1985 as a sole practitioner. Business wasn't great, but he still had his law license.

Hoover's old firm had tried to smooth things over with First Federal by reimbursing it $153,523 (no one has explained how they came up with that figure). Jennings, Strouss & Salmon also quietly had settled their financial differences with former partner Hoover in an arrangement that never has been made public. Although the tale of Hoover's fall soon made the rounds in Phoenix's legal circles, the public would learn nothing about it for years.

At first, Hoover told the State Bar he'd done nothing wrong. Then, he admitted his guilt and announced he would try an insanity defense at his disciplinary hearings.

A local committee of three lawyers took testimony at a closed-door hearing that began in March 1986. That committee's job is to make recommendations to a statewide Disciplinary Commission of nine people--including two non-lawyers. The commission then issues its recommendations to the Arizona Supreme Court, which makes the binding decision about a lawyer's fate.

William French--the former judge who later prosecuted Governor Evan Mecham at the 1988 impeachment hearings--was serving in 1986 as voluntary counsel for the State Bar. French turned out to be much more conciliatory toward Charlie Hoover than he would be toward Ev Mecham.

In response to a question from French, a chastened Hoover told the local committee: "I don't have any questions that what I did was wrong. Setting aside the mental aspects of it, it violated all sorts of things, including professional conduct."

French soon concluded that Hoover's mental state--not his thefts--was all the local committee should consider.

"The appropriate sanction is probation for a period of time," French wrote, "with reasonable safeguards to insure that Hoover's mental disorder is completely resolved and will not recur."

Three mental-health experts also excused Hoover's conduct by agreeing he had suffered from mental problems.

Psychologist Gregory Crow, for example, said of Hoover: "He couldn't remember a lot of things that had happened. I felt that he would not be considered a full-blown manic-depressive, but that he was definitely in the ballpark . . . And they helped Hoover by testifying that his mental state had improved enough for him to resume the practice of law. Crow said: "As far as I know, he's back to his old self."

Added psychiatrist Robert Shapiro: "He has made more progress than I would have expected of the usual manic-depressive. I don't see any reason that he shouldn't practice law."

Hoover's defense was top drawer. He even got Otto Bendheim--the grand old man of Phoenix psychiatry and the founder of Camelback Hospitals--to vouch for his troubles. It was Bendheim--whom French hired as an independent examiner--who really sold the committee on Hoover's mental troubles.

"He was grandiose," said Bendheim, a member of the State Bar's Committee on Mental Health who often testifies at Superior Court criminal trials. "He felt that anything he did at the time was right for him to do--he couldn't do any wrong. He was the most intelligent lawyer in the country, the wisest. He was also the most energetic, could get along with the least sleep, could work harder than anybody else. And he could write checks if he felt like it."

French, probably wondering if Bendheim wasn't stretching it some, asked him if Hoover's defense had been "thought up after the fact, after the lawyers got into the act."

"I hope you know me well enough, Judge French," Bendheim quickly replied, "that I wouldn't be a party to whitewashing."

THINGS WERE LOOKING rosy for Charlie Hoover after Otto Bendheim and the others testified on his behalf. The local committee had sided with Hoover in May 1986, voting unanimously that he "presently is fit to engage in the active practice of law."

But the tide began to turn against him after Harriet Turney moved to Arizona in 1986 to become the State Bar's full-time chief counsel. Turney took the Hoover case over from Bill French after it had gone to the Disciplinary Commission--the second step. And, as Turney says, "I went for the throat."

"I didn't know Charlie Hoover from Archie Bunker. I didn't have a sense of who of the important players were in town, and the Board of Governors told me to vigorously pursue the case. I did. To me, somebody very involved in Bar activities like Charlie ought to know better--that ought to be an aggravating factor."

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