Case in Question: What happens when your attorney is drunk or high on the job?

Investigative

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — A high-profile drug case took a sad and bizarre turn, when the defense attorney himself died of a drug overdose. Some of his clients say that attorney represented them well, but one told us the attorney’s drug use affected his case.

As we showed you last month, a July 2018 Chesapeake traffic stop turned tragic when an 18-year-old shot and killed herself while in handcuffs. But it had another bizarre twist. The driver, Holden Medlin, was arrested on drug charges, and then four months later his attorney, Jason Hamlin, died of a heroin and fentanyl overdose.

Medlin didn’t want to discuss his deceased attorney, but his death came as no surprise to another one of Hamlin’s clients.

“How did I have a fair trial if I had a lawyer representing me that was intoxicated?” asked Hasheed Mills during a recent interview from Hampton Roads Regional Jail. Mills hired Hamlin to represent him on breaking and entering and assault charges.

Mills says there were signs — more than just the missed phone calls and what he says were severe mood swings during their meetings.

“He had on a long sleeved shirt and I saw blood specs on the shirt. The main part that I can deeply remember is when he was like, ‘Ain’t nothing wrong with doing drugs.’ That was a red flag for me, I can’t have him represent me.”

Hamlin’s family told us his diabetes caused severe health complications and pain that were too much for him to endure and provided us with this statement.

Years of living with diabetes, hospitalizations, and surgery wore down Jason’s immune system and dreams. It was recently revealed to him that he needed a liver transplant and impending kidney dialysis. He lost his eyesight 3 times, which was restored due to excellent medical attention! The neuropathy and pain from leg surgery proved to be a mental and physical toll. Diabetes is a devastating disease which proved to be a larger force than this brave man could endure.

His love of life, family and friends will live on with all who knew and loved him. He was a strong and brave man who fought a debilitating disease.

Statement from the family of Jason Hamlin

Mills was convicted, Hamlin died, and then Mills got a new attorney for sentencing. The judge gave Mills four years active prison time. Mills contacted the state bar association both before and after Hamlin’s death.

The bar’s response stated it has no disciplinary authority over deceased attorneys, but a former Commonwealth’s Attorney says what Hamlin did would likely not have gotten him disbarred.

“Hamlin, if he had lived, and if all of this came to light, would have probably had his license suspended… and it would likely have been from three to six months,” said Harvey Bryant, who also practiced as a defense attorney before he was elected as Virginia Beach’s chief prosecutor.

Mills is appealing, but because his four year sentence was actually below the low end of the guidelines, he’s unlikely to prevail.

Once all of his appeals are exhausted, he can file a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, but Bryant says that’s unlikely, too.

“It’s rare, not often. It has to be a pretty strong, obvious case.”

Bryant has this advice if you think your attorney is impaired. First, get your file back, and then ask for your money back. The next step would be to advise the court, wherever your case is.

For clients who can prove ineffective counsel, the Virginia Bar Association has a compensation fund.

In the meantime, Hasheed Mills keeps asking this question, “How can you do drugs and represent someone? Your mind’s not going to be all the way there.”

The Virginia Bar Association says Hamlin received no public discipline, and a special court-appointed receiver is overseeing his cases, but the receiver’s report is sealed.

Bryant says lawyers are ethically bound to report other lawyers who they know are impaired.

To read the American Bar Association’s study on lawyers and substance abuse, click here.

To go to the Virginia State Bar Association Clients’ Protection Fund, click here.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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