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State Panel Says Law School Grad Should Not Practice Law

PHOENIX (AP), January 15, 2005 - A state panel has concluded that convicted murder and inmate-rights activist James Hamm is not fit to be an attorney and shouldn't be permitted to practice law in Arizona, The Associated Press has learned.

Court documents unsealed Friday state that Hamm, an Arizona State University law college graduate, is appealing the Oct. 5 recommendation by the state Supreme Court's character and fitness review committee.

Hamm has appealed the committee's recommendation to the Supreme Court, which is now awaiting the committee's response to Hamm's appeal.

Hamm graduated from law school after being released from prison. He got an undergraduate degree while serving 17 years in prison for shooting one of two men killed during a 1974 robbery in Tucson.

Hamm passed the bar exam in 1999, a state board took him off parole in 2001 and he filed his application with the Supreme Court in January 2004.

Hamm works as a paralegal, expert witness and sentencing mitigation analyst for attorneys, and he and his wife also operate a prisoner-advocacy group, Middle Ground Prison Reform.

The character and fitness committee said Hamm's strong record of rehabilitation and professional successes don't overcome the two killings and their serious consequences.

The committee also said he failed to pay court-ordered child support and wasn't completely candid with the committee.

During testimony before the committee, Hamm "mischaracterized the murders "as simply a drug deal gone bad at an instant. On the contrary, the evidence and facts suggest that the robbing and murder of the two victims was carefully preplanned and well thought out by Hamm and his accomplices," the commission stated.

Hamm's appeal said he accepted full responsibility for the 1974 killing but that denying him permission to practice law would be a denial of his 14th Amendment constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

"Only necessity is sufficient cause for denial of the opportunity to practice law, because pursuing a line of work, a type of employment, is indeed a right, not a privilege, and may be entered only for legitimate and substantial reasons," he wrote.

Hamm also said he was truthful and that his payment of child support once he learned of his obligation demonstrated good character.