A Fort Wayne lawyer who was charged after threatening to rape his opponent in a divorce case admits he was wrong to do that, but he says he shouldn’t be punished by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission because the threat wasn’t literal and he was protecting his client.
James A. Hanson was charged in April 2014 with two counts of intimidation. One of those counts was a felony for sending Chad Vice a Facebook message. Vice represented himself in his divorce case, and Hanson represented Vice’s ex-wife, Nachole Mevis-Vice.
“You pissed off the wrong attorney,” Hanson wrote to Vice, according to the verified complaint the commission filed against him earlier in July. “You want to beat up women and then play games with the legal system … After I get (Nachole) out of jail, I’m going to gather all the relevant evidence and then I’m going to rape you so hard your teeth come loose.
“I tried working with you with respect. I’m going to treat you like the pond scum you are. Watch your a–, you little b—-. I’ve got you in my sights now,” Hanson wrote, according to the disciplinary complaint.
Mevis-Vice had been charged with domestic battery at the time of Hanson’s threat, and that charge is pending, according to Allen County court records. Hanson initially represented Mevis-Vice in her criminal case as well as in her divorce, case records show.
The state ultimately dismissed the felony intimidation count against Hanson and agreed to pretrial diversion on the misdemeanor earlier this year. The disciplinary commission filed a complaint on July 6, alleging that Hanson violated professional rules of conduct 4.4(a) and 8.4(d).
The first alleged violation accuses Hanson of conduct that has no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay or burden a third person. The second alleges Hanson’s conduct was prejudicial to the administration of justice.
Hanson “threatened Mr. Vice, a party opponent, with sexual violence despite his knowledge that Mr. Vice was alleged to be a recent victim of domestic violence by (Hanson’s) client,” the commission states in its complaint.
In his July 10 response, Hanson “denies that he threatened Mr. Vice with sexual violence as the context of the statement and the actual intent of the respondent make a literal reading of the text impossible and a metaphoric reading correct.”
But Hanson also uses his response to the complaint against him as a platform for numerous allegations against Vice and Allen County prosecutors. Hanson says Vice made public the private message sent to him on Facebook, which he turned over to prosecutors.
“The purpose of (sending the message) was to push back against a habitual bully on behalf of an emotionally vulnerable client in an attempt to shield her from further manipulation and abuse,” Hanson wrote in his response.
Vice faces no charges and has no prior domestic violence charges in Allen County court records. He did not reply to a message seeking comment.
When Hanson’s arrest and the tone of the threat made national headlines, “nobody ever talked to me about the context or anything else,” Hanson told Indiana Lawyer. “The language in that message, no matter how inappropriate it is, everybody is aware there are plenty of attorneys who speak a lot worse than that on a regular basis. … I was trying to protect a woman from verbal and physical abuse.
“I should have handled it differently,” he said. “I played right into (Vice’s) hands and gave him what he needed to make my life miserable, and it’s cost me.
“My frustration was more with the system. The bigger picture here is not being addressed,” he added.
Hanson told IL he sent various evidence of abuse against his client to the disciplinary commission before the formal complaint was filed against him. He asserted in response to the disciplinary case against him that Vice was a “longtime manipulator and abuser” of his ex-wife, which he said explained in part why he wrote the Facebook message.
The message, Hanson wrote, “was sent out of poor judgment and out of frustration with the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office to address Mr. Vice’s abuse of his family. … (Hanson’s) frustration with the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office extended to its willingness to aid and abet Mr. Vice in his abuse of his wife by charging her with domestic violence based on Mr. Vice’s persistent complaints rather than on substantial evidence.”
“I’m unaware of Mr. Hanson ever informing our office he was ever unhappy with how we handled any prior or existing complaints,” Allen County chief deputy prosecutor Michael McAlexander said.
McAlexander said Vice filed a walk-in complaint of domestic violence and standard procedures were followed, resulting in the charge against Hanson’s client. “Probable cause was found, and it’s not simply our decision. We submit those to a judge to determine whether probable cause existed, and that was done.”
“Obviously, in those domestic situations it can be very tricky. Sometimes you do have complaints going both ways,” McAlexander said. He said a review of law enforcement records found various contacts with the couple, with Vice more often the complaining party.
Hanson described the situation between Vice and his client as tumultuous with frequent intervention by authorities. But those aren’t the only accusations Hanson leveled against Vice in response to his discipline complaint.
“Mr. Vice threatened to kill not only (Hanson’s) client, but also threatened to kill respondent himself at the final hearing in the dissolution matter,” Hanson wrote in his reply to the commission. Hanson, though, told the commission he dismissed those purported threats as “hollow manipulations and refused to give them any response.”
Hanson said in his reply that his conduct did not prejudice the administration of justice because a divorce decree had been issued before he sent Vice the message.
Nevertheless, Hanson writes that his comments were “inappropriate, immoral and unprofessional.”
“Respondent is ashamed of his conduct and in no way wishes his denial of Rule violations to be misunderstood as indicating that his actions were appropriate or that those actions should ever be repeated,” Hanson told the disciplinary commission in his defense.
He wrote, however, “those actions, no matter their immorality or unprofessional character, are not actionable under the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct as those rules are currently written.”•