Was There Madness To His Method?

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

Turney argued before the Disciplinary Commission in late 1986 for Hoover's disbarment. Hoover's defense remained the same. Why should Hoover face sanctions, his attorney Paul Beer argued, if he erred because he was insane?

"You've got a man who had an absolutely clear record," Beer told the commission, "who has done everything he could do to work for the State Bar, and he has one aberration, due to an illness that is not of his product or making . . . It isn't that hee-hee-ha, he gets away with it because he was crazy when he did it. This man has lived through hell over this situation, and he still is."

But some commission members expressed doubts, including Phoenix television newsman Bill Close, who took the common-sense approach.

"As a non-lawyer, I don't know what the hell I'm doing here," said Close--one of two non-lawyers on the nine-member commission. "[But] what is to keep that person from going off the treatment and revert to a prior situation, in this case, one in which he was not aware?"

The case that began with Hoover's thefts in 1983 and 1984 dragged on and on. The commission decided in October 1986 that it didn't have enough information to say whether Hoover had been insane. It asked that a new local committee hear the case.

Hoover's lawyers appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court. In July 1987, the high court said it wouldn't order a new hearing but also said Hoover couldn't raise the insanity defense as a complete bar against discipline. The court returned the case to the Disciplinary Commission. "Permitting him to continue uninterrupted in the practice of law," Harriet Turney argued when the commission reconvened, "invites public disdain for our profession and justified public cynicism about the effectiveness of our self-regulating system."

The commission, however, was lenient. It voted 5-3 in April 1988 to recommend a six-month suspension against Hoover, to be followed by a reinstatement hearing. It cited Hoover's "long and meritorious record of voluntary service to his profession" to justify its decision.

THE ARIZONA SUPREME COURT was ready in 1988 to sort through the morass wrought by Hoover's "insanity" plea and to bring the five years of legal wrangling to an end. The court issued its ruling July 28, and it showed little sympathy with Hoover's claims of mental illness.

"One can suffer from manic-depressive disease without stealing from one's clients," Justice Stanley Feldman wrote in the majority 3-2 opinion.

"We have difficulty accepting the argument that a lawyer, who is effectively managing and closing a multimillion-dollar real-estate transaction, can misappropriate funds, defraud his clients and then escape sanctions by claiming he was unaware of what he was doing or could not appreciate the impropriety of his conduct. None of the mental-health experts indicated that [Hoover] suffered from delusions so severe he was unaware of the implications of his conduct."

But Feldman and two colleagues stopped short of calling for Hoover's disbarment. The court also declined to subject Hoover to a reinstatement hearing after he completes his six-month suspension early next year.

And so, the legal saga of Charlie Hoover ended not with a bang but a whimper.

The public was let in on what had transpired only after the high court had made its decision. Only then could those involved in the case publicly reflect on whether justice had been done.

Hoover's lawyer Paul Beer pauses when asked if his defense would have worked had his client been a common bank robber.

"I'm an advocate, okay, and I'll frame my answer accordingly," he says circumspectly. "Charlie was treated very fairly."

And Harriet Turney, while trying to defend the honor of the State Bar's self-policing system, gives Charlie Hoover high grades for his immensely clever--and largely successful--defense.

"Let's put it this way," she says. "If Charlie was crazy, he was crazy like a fox.

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