The Trumpworld attorneys facing professional sanctions over spurious lawsuits and election lies
Several members of the legal team that advanced Donald Trump’s bogus claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him are facing professional sanctions and ethics violations for their spurious attempts to overturn the results.
Attorneys for the now-former president repeatedly and falsely asserted that the election was fraudulent while pushing lawsuits to subvert the outcome in states that he lost.
Jenna Ellis, a member of what she once described an “elite strike force” to overturn election results, “repeatedly made misrepresentations on national television and on Twitter, undermining the American public’s confidence in the 2020 presidential election,” according to a six-page ruling on 8 March from a judge in Colorado, where she practises law.
Ms Ellis – the one-time senior legal adviser to the Trump campaign – signed a legal acknowledgement that she “made a number of public statements about the November 2020 presidential election that were false” and did so with a “reckless state of mind” and “a selfish motive,” according to documents from Colorado’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.
State and federal judges from across the political spectrum rejected dozens of post-election lawsuits from Trump-aligned attorneys, many of whom are now facing professional consequences for those attempts.
Meanwhile, the former president and attorneys and officials in his orbit could face criminal prosecution following a grand jury investigation in Georgia, where Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is expected to seek indictments based on recommendations in the grand jury’s report.
The admissions agreed to by Ms Ellis are part of a document to accept public censure and settle disciplinary measures brought against her by Colorado. Her acknowledgement follows an investigation stemming from a complaint by a bipartisan legal watchdog group that accused Ms Ellis of supporting “a concerted effort” to overturn the 2020 election.
“This was politically motivated from the start from Democrats and Never Trumpers,” Ms Ellis said in a statement in response. “They ultimately failed to destroy me and failed in their attempt to deprive me of my bar license. I’m glad to have this behind me and remain in good standing in the State of Colorado.”
Ms Ellis disputed reports that she admitted to lying about election fraud, which she said “requires INTENTIONALLY making a false statement.”
“That is FALSE. I would NEVER lie,” she added. “I never did that, nor did I stipulate to or admit that.”
But her agreement with bar officials states that the parties believe her conduct “warrants public censure,” which is merited when lawyers “knowingly engage” in any “conduct that involves dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.”
A statement from the 65 Project calls on the American Bar Association and state supreme courts “to adopt rules that require expeditious treatment of complaints arising from allegations that the lawyer sought to abuse the courts to undermine democracy.”
John Eastman, the California lawyer behind the so-called “coup memo” that argued a sham pathway for then-Vice President Mike Pence to declare Mr Trump the winner of the 2020 election, could be stripped of his licence to practise law after he was hit with 11 charges stemming from his efforts.
In January, the office of the State Bar of California’s chief trial counsel announced its intention to disbar Mr Eastman.
His speech on 6 January, 2021 as part of the former president’s “Stop the Steal”-themed rally on the Ellipse in Washington DC also was a contributing factor to the charges against him, according to the complaint, which pointed to his unfounded remarks about election fraud before a mob violently breached the halls of Congress that day.
“Eastman knew, or should have known, that the factual premise for his proposals – that massive fraud was at play – was false, and that Trump had lost his bid for re-election,” according to the bar’s statement.
Mr Eastman “ignored” the truth when he spoke at the rally, the statement added.
The 11-count complaint includes charges based on “allegations that Eastman engaged in a course of conduct to plan, promote, and assist then-President Trump in executing a strategy, unsupported by facts or law, to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by obstructing the count of electoral votes of certain states.”
The former mayor of New York and the former president’s one-time personal attorney was suspended from practising law in his hometown and faces disbarment in Washington DC over similar allegations of knowingly airing false claims about the 2020 election.
A preliminary finding from a three-member disciplinary committee in Washington DC determined that Mr Giuliani violated the terms of his licence to practise law with his Pennsylvania lawsuit to block the certification of the 2020 election results.
Voting machine company Dominion Voting Systems also filed defamation lawsuits against Mr Giuliani as well as Trump-allied attorney Sidney Powell, conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell and Fox News for amplifying false claims that Dominion argues have severely damaged the company, compromised integrity in US elections and fuelled harassment and death threats against its employees.
Ms Powell, whose bogus claims about Dominion are also at the centre of the company’s defamation lawsuit against Fox News, avoided disciplinary actions in Texas after a judge rejected a petition from the State Bar of Texas’ Commission for Lawyer Discipline in February.
A state judge determined that the commission did not prove that Ms Powell violated the state’s attorney code of conduct and accused the commision of failing to properly label exhibits in its filing, leading her to only consider two of the exhibits that were filed in the case.
The editorial board at the Dallas Morning News called the judge’s ruling over a clerical error “a disservice to the public.”
Ms Powell spearheaded spurious lawsuits baselessly alleging voting machines were linked to the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and hackers from China and Iran, a challenge that a federal judge in Michigan said was a “historic and profound abuse of the judicial process” when she sanctioned Ms Powell and others involved in the lawsuits, including far-right conspiracy theorist Lin Wood.
That ruling has been appealed.
Jeffrey Clark, who served as assistant US attorney general under the Trump administration, is fighting to save his law licence after a Washington DC bar complaint after he pushed the US Department of Justice to issue a letter to state legislatures to advance the so-called “fake electoral” scheme.
A 30-page filing in DC’s court of appeals last year claims that Mr Clark is immune from ethics charges against him and accuses his superiors of a “dereliction of duty” for rejecting his conspiracy theories.
“Failing to conduct a federal investigation of irregularities that did or may have affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election is a serious federal responsibility, not just a responsibility of state and local authorities or one that can be sloughed off onto the Trump campaign,” according to the filing from his attorney. “Additionally, the US Justice Department possesses not just criminal tools but civil enforcement tools.”