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Arizona Supreme Court Rejects
Killer's Bid to Practice Law

Michael Kiefer
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 7, 2005
James Hamm, the convicted murderer who earned a law degree, was denied the right to practice law when the Arizona Supreme Court issued a ruling Wednesday that he had failed to prove he was of good moral character.

In a unanimous decision written by Chief Justice Ruth McGregor, the court acknowledged that Hamm, who became a crusader for prisoners' rights, had rehabilitated himself but that rehabilitation alone was not proof of moral character.

"An applicant must establish his current good moral character, independent of and in addition to, evidence of rehabilitation," McGregor wrote. "We conclude that Hamm failed to make that showing."

The Arizona Supreme Court agreed with a committee's findings that James Hamm had not taken full responsibility for the killings during a drug deal gone bad and that he failed to make child-support payments.

Among the issues raised by the court was Hamm's failure to make child support payments to his first wife.

In 1974, Hamm, who was then 26 , shot a man in Tucson after a drug deal went bad. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. Nonetheless, he was released from prison in 1992 after serving 17 years.

Hamm received a law degree from Arizona State University in 1996. He and his wife, Donna, founded the prison reform organization Middle Ground.

Hamm passed the State Bar exam in 1999 , then waited three years after he was released from parole before filing the final paperwork to become a lawyer. In Arizona, an attorney must be accepted to the State Bar in order to practice law.

But he was turned down by the Committee on Character and Fitness in 2004. The committee's position, as reiterated in court, was that Hamm's answers to questions about child support he owed, an accusation of practicing law without a license and certain facts about the murders lacked "candor."

He pleaded his case before the Arizona Supreme Court in October.