Rudy Giuliani, the man once known as “America’s Mayor” for his leadership following 9/11, is now at risk of losing his ability to practice law, following the unanimous recommendation of a three-member panel of the Bar of the District of Columbia, which concluded that Giuliani should be disbarred.
The D.C. Hearing Committee’s report is a 38-page blistering tour of Giuliani’s professional transgressions as they relate to his decision to bring a lawsuit in Pennsylvania in 2020, which was part of his dangerous and ham-fisted plan to overturn the 2020 election results in favor of Donald Trump. The report doesn’t mince words, concluding that Giuliani “had no factual basis, and consequently no legitimate legal grounds.” Ouch.
Giuliani is not the only former Trump lawyer who may lose his ability to practice law.
Giuliani’s spokesperson, using language as hyperbolic as that of his employer, said the D.C. Hearing Committee’s report was “part of a larger effort to deny President Trump effective counsel by persecuting Mayor Giuliani — objectively one of the most effective prosecutors in American history.”
Giuliani is not the only former Trump lawyer who may lose his ability to practice law. An ongoing disciplinary trial taking place in the State Bar Court of California is reviewing whether John Eastman should lose his license to practice law. Eastman was a key architect in the plan to send fake electors to vote in the Electoral College. Those plans, much like Giuliani’s, were nothing but a house of cards and folded under a millisecond of judicial scrutiny. Eastman’s response is that while his argument ended up being the losing one, there was enough scholarly debate surrounding this scheme that made it a tenable strategy.
And Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, two attorneys who similarly boosted Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud in court, faced legal sanctions by a federal judge in Michigan. Powell appealed that award of sanctions. She has also said, in response to the actions and investigations of her conduct surrounding the 2020 election, “We have been besieged by lawfare.” Wood responded by claiming that he was not involved in the Michigan case, and that another lawyer had put his name on documents filed with the court. Just last week, Wood agreed to give up his law license in Georgia and all other states in exchange for the state dropping the disciplinary actions against him.
Yet another former Trump attorney, Jenna Ellis, agreed to a stipulation before a Colorado court in which she admitted that she “repeatedly made misrepresentations on national television and on Twitter, undermining the American public’s confidence in the 2020 presidential election.” Ellis’ out-of-court response was that the investigation against her was “politically motivated from the start from Democrats and Never-Trumpers.”
In the case of Giuliani, the basis of his baseless suit was, as Giuliani argued, in part that Pennsylvania’s requirement that partisan election observers keep a (Covid-19 safe) distance from election workers somehow threw the integrity of the ballot counting process into jeopardy and caused widespread fraud. This argument makes sense if you think nothing helps election workers do their jobs like partisan observers standing inches from them during the height of a pandemic. It also makes sense if you, apparently like Giuliani, think that the distance the partisan observers had to keep from the election workers was only a problem for Republicans. Because in his words, “Democrats weren’t allowed to see [the ballot counting] because they couldn’t count on the fact that all Democrats are crooked.”
As the report noted, instead of being based on the facts and the law, Giuliani’s argument was instead dependent on “speculation, mistrust, and suspicion."
If, on the other hand, you are someone who lives in reality, like the three members of the disciplinary board for the D.C. Bar Association, Giuliani’s argument (it is perhaps too generous to call it a legal argument) is unlikely to make much sense. As the report noted, instead of being based on the facts and the law, Giuliani’s argument was instead dependent on “speculation, mistrust, and suspicion,” and a reasonable attorney would have concluded that there was “not even a faint hope of success” on the claim.
One could write a veritable tome in order to do justice to the many well-deserved knockout punches that the panel delivers to Giuliani and his fantastical legal theories. In the end it boils down to this: “He sought to upend the presidential election but never had evidence to support that effort.” Giuliani lurched from one erroneous accusation to another, never conjuring up more than a phantasm.
This is not Giuliani’s first rodeo with a disciplinary body. An appeals court in New York already suspended him from practicing law in that state for his efforts to undermine the valid results of the 2020 presidential election.
In the cases of Powell and Wood, the court concluded that Powell, Wood and others filed a suit in which they took “on the charge of deceiving a federal court and the American people into believing that rights were infringed, without regard to whether any laws or rights were in fact violated.” The State Bar of Texas also brought a disciplinary case against Powell for her role in seeking to overturn the 2020 election. A Republican state court judge tossed out that action, finding that there were clerical errors including the mislabeling of exhibits of evidence — a far cry from legal vindication for Powell.
Lawyers can change the world. Racial segregation used to be legal. Gender discrimination was as well. The right to an abortion used to be protected by the Constitution. Lawyers changed all that. And that is why lawyers, despite the cottage industry of jokes about us, hold a position of trust in our society. When we breach that trust, the damage can ripple out far beyond any single case.
As the D.C. disciplinary board noted, by filing a suit in Pennsylvania and seeking to overturn a valid election result, Giuliani “helped destabilize our democracy. His malicious and meritless claims have done lasting damage…” Similarly, the appellate court in New York concluded that “false statements intended to foment a loss of confidence in our elections and resulting loss of confidence in government generally damage the proper functioning of a free society.” It may be a long road from the Giuliani we knew on 9/11 to the one we saw in the the aftermath of the 2020 election, but it’s not such a long distance from those statements to the insurrection in the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
After the collective trauma of watching a now-former president and his lawyers actively undermine democracy, it might provide a cathartic moment to recall Giuliani, hair dye dripping down his face, railing away only semi-coherently about widespread voter fraud and crimes he could smell. It might bring renewed horror, but also a slightly guilty chuckle, to recall the insanity of the press conference Giuliani held not outside of a Four Seasons Resort, but instead Four Seasons Total Landscaping.
But the statements Giuliani, Eastman, Powell, Wood and others made in courts of law are not punchlines to be forgotten. They represent serious lies and misrepresentations made by those who pledge an oath to uphold, not undermine, our Constitution.