Trump Lawyers Who Spread False Election Claims Are Now Defending Themselves In Court
Some legal experts argue that the profession needs to engage in deep soul-searching after serious abuses of ethics rules by attorneys in the Trump years.
Six months after the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, attorneys who promoted former President Donald Trump's false claims about election fraud are being forced to defend their actions in court.
But some experts say the abuses over the past four years compel the legal profession to perform some deeper soul-searching.
"I just think it's important, if we are to reset, that our profession is prepared to confront itself and make decisions about who we want to be, who we are and what it's going to require, which may be uncomfortable, to ensure that we hold our character," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, at an event sponsored by New York University School of Law.
Ifill, who used to teach aspiring attorneys about their roles and responsibilities as "officers of the court," has been calling for an independent commission to produce a full accounting of how lawyers lost their way.
So far, there's little public sign of interest in that kind of self-examination. Instead, judges and attorney discipline panels are performing their own investigations, case by case, in a methodical fashion.
This week in Michigan, U.S. District Judge Linda Parker grilled lawyers close to Trump about the actions they took before filing a lawsuit that claimed irregularities in the 2020 election.
"What authority did this court have to decertify election results?" Parker asked.
The city of Detroit wants those attorneys to face sanctions. At the hearing, Detroit lawyer David Fink called their lawsuit sloppy, careless and "an embarrassment to the legal profession."
Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, has been monitoring the election fallout with interest.
"You make a misstatement in court — first of all, don't do that," Bharara said. "And if you do, correct it immediately. There's nothing worse."
But at the hearing in Michigan, some of the attorneys who are under scrutiny adopted a different approach.
One of them, attorney Lin Wood, said he didn't read the complaint before it was filed. Another lawyer with ties to Trump, Sidney Powell, said she took "full responsibility" for the paperwork. Powell told the judge she'd practiced law with the highest standards.
Meanwhile, authorities in New York recently suspended the law license of Rudy Giuliani, Trump's former personal lawyer.
They said Giuliani had "communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public" while trying to overturn the results of the election.
Giuliani wants a hearing, where his lawyers John Leventhal and Barry Kamins said they think he'll be reinstated "as a valued member of the legal profession that he has served so well in his many capacities for so many years."
George Conway, a lawyer who regularly criticizes Trump and the attorneys who worked for him, said the rules are pretty straightforward.
"When you assert something, you have to be able to back it up," Conway said. "You can't make things up."
Conway famously turned down a top job in the Trump Justice Department, calling it "probably the best decision I ever made."
But Conway said many of those lawyers who did serve in the Trump years deserve thanks for refusing to advance phony theories about election fraud this year.
"The upper echelons of the Justice Department in the waning weeks of the administration basically refused to do what Trump wanted them to do and they entered into essentially a bureaucratic suicide pact" where they agreed to quit in protest if Trump tried to fire the head of the Justice Department over the election cases, said Conway.
Trump backed down.
There are lawyers who think the legal profession needs to do a lot more to counter widespread violations of norms and rules — misleading courts, lawmakers and the public.
For her part, Ifill said elite institutions, including the American Law Institute and the American Bar Association, mostly didn't rise up when that happened over the past few years.
"What happens when lawyers, particularly in position of responsibility like government lawyers or I would even say law firm partners, take on positions ... or run so close to the edge of the rules that they potentially reset the rules in ways that undermine the core of what the profession is supposed to be about?" she asked.
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