More than 1,500 lawyers condemned efforts by the Trump campaign’s legal team to reverse the election results in an open letter that urged the American Bar Association (ABA) to investigate the conduct of the team, including its leader, Rudolph W. Giuliani.
“President Trump’s barrage of litigation is a pretext for a campaign to undermine public confidence in the outcome of the 2020 election, which inevitably will subvert constitutional democracy,” the letter says. “Sadly, the President’s primary agents and enablers in this effort are lawyers, obligated by their oath and ethical rules to uphold the rule of law.”
The letter escalates the concerns of Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) who on Nov. 20 filed complaints with ethics boards in five states calling for Giuliani and other members of the team to be investigated and disbarred. The criticism has been echoed in op-eds and letters by attorneys who have rebuked the team for filing frivolous lawsuits and tarnishing the legal profession.
“It’s really unusual to see a coalition like this calling for disciplinary action; it takes a lot,” Deborah Rhode, a Stanford Law School professor and one of the leading American legal ethicists, told The Washington Post on Tuesday. “Many of these letters have been crossing the political aisle, and that testifies to both the egregiousness of the conduct and its seriousness for the rule of law and the democratic process.”
The signers include a bipartisan coalition of former ABA presidents, state bar presidents, retired federal judges, retired state Supreme Court justices and attorneys in private practice.
Coordinated by the nonpartisan group Lawyers Defending American Democracy, the open letter questions the conduct by Giuliani, as well as current and former Trump legal team members Joseph diGenova, Jenna Ellis, Victoria Toensing and Sidney Powell.
Representatives for the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
The LDAD letter claims that the Trump campaign attorneys have abused the judicial process by making baseless claims of voter fraud in public, only to abandon them in the courtroom in favor of wildly speculative, unsupported claims, before once again doubling down on dishonest arguments in public to appease Trump.
The behavior has a corrosive effect on the public’s trust in the security and fairness of the 2020 elections as well as their esteem of the legal profession overall, multiple legal experts told The Post.
“It hurts the public view of the profession, and it encourages [the public] to think there’s nothing that lawyers won’t say or do for money, or to please their client,” said Stephen Gillers, a legal ethicist and professor at New York University Law School.
No state bar associations or disciplinary arms within the federal judiciary have taken action against the Trump campaign’s lawyers, though Gillers said there’s mounting evidence that judges are growing tired of the team’s theatrics. He pointed to U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann’s scathing Nov. 21 ruling that dismissed the Trump campaign’s voter fraud lawsuit in Pennsylvania, in which he said the attorneys haphazardly stitched together legal arguments “like Frankenstein’s Monster.”
“It shows the judge was ‘up to here’ with the nonsense,” Gillers said, noting that Trump campaign lawyers are putting their reputations at risk if they press forward.
“They’re playing with fire,” Gillers added. “There’s always a risk that the very next judge will say, ‘Enough already, I’m referring you for discipline.’ ”
Discipline could range from public censure or a fine up to disbarment; any discipline would be humbling, even if the attorneys kept their law licenses, Gillers said.
The most likely way any of the team would face sanctions, however, is if a judge determined that the lawyers have committed professional misconduct. The lawyers could be found to have acted improperly if it were determined that their legal efforts were a smokescreen to delay the certification of electors or a ploy to raise money.
“The disciplinary boards of various states are going to be reluctant to do anything without a finding by a judge that the lawyers have misbehaved,” Gillers said.
Pascrell praised the attorneys who signed the LDAD letter for standing up for their profession — and maintained that those who used their legal credentials to enable Trump should lose their right to practice law.
“In their frivolous lawsuits geared toward stealing the election, Trump’s lawyers are bringing ill-repute to the entire legal community and abusing the legal system to assault democracy,” Pascrell told The Post in a statement Tuesday. “Every lawyer promulgating or promoting Trump’s suits should face the strongest possible punishment and be stripped of their license to practice law. If targeting American democracy does not merit such sanction, nothing does.”