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Giuliani’s N.Y. law license suspended in connection with efforts to overturn 2020 election

Rudolph W. Giuliani at a news conference in Washington on Nov. 19. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

NEW YORK — New York state suspended Rudolph W. Giuliani from practicing law on Thursday, months after the former New York mayor battled to overturn the settled results of November's election on behalf of President Donald Trump.

The committee of First Department Appellate Division judges that made the determination said Giuliani is not fit to continue practicing law after he “communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer for [Trump] and the Trump campaign in connection with Trump’s failed effort at reelection in 2020.” The panel issued a 33-page opinion on the matter.

The court’s disciplinary committee, which fielded multiple complaints against Giuliani and is overseeing arguments in the case, found that his conduct “immediately threatens the public interest and warrants interim suspension from the practice of law,” the opinion said.

The suspension represents one of the first serious attempts to impose consequences on Trump or his top allies for spreading falsehoods about the election results, rhetoric that has continued unabated since President Biden’s victory was certified. It comes, too, as Trump and Giuliani face separate criminal investigations in New York.

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Retired judges John Leventhal and Barry Kamins, who are representing Giuliani in the disciplinary proceeding, issued a joint statement defending him. “This is unprecedented as we believe that our client does not pose a present danger to the public interest,” it says. “We believe that once the issues are fully explored at a hearing Mr. Giuliani will be reinstated as a valued member of the legal profession that he has served so well in his many capacities for so many years.”

A hearing over the suspension is planned, but a date has not been set.

Trump issued a statement Thursday calling Giuliani “a great American patriot” and “one of the greatest crime fighters our Country has ever known,” and again falsely insisting that Biden’s election was fraudulent. Trump dubbed Giuliani’s suspension part of a “Witch Hunt” orchestrated by political rivals and said that “all of New York” should be “ashamed of themselves.”

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Giuliani led the charge for Trump against certification of the election results, though time after time, judges called his assertions baseless and tossed Trump campaign lawsuits alleging widespread voting fraud. Like Trump, Giuliani still complains regularly that the election was stolen.

The suspension order says Giuliani fabricated claims about dead people voting in Philadelphia, at times claiming the number of fraudulent votes there was more than 8,000 while other times putting that number at 30,000 — without showing proof that either figure was true. The late heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier, who died in 2011, “is still voting here,” Giuliani claimed without evidence during his push to overturn election results in Pennsylvania.

Although Giuliani claimed to have made the false statements unknowingly, he failed to offer “a scintilla of evidence for any of the varying and wildly inconsistent numbers of dead people he factually represented voted in Philadelphia,” the panel of judges wrote. And while Giuliani claimed that he relied on a blogger’s unverified account about Frazier voting posthumously, the posts he cited refer to years predating the 2020 election and Frazier’s eligibility to vote was terminated in 2012, the judges found.

“The blogger’s representation regarding what the public record revealed was inaccurate,” their opinion states.

Proceedings that could result in sanctions have been opened against lawyers who made false claims of fraud in the weeks after the election. Michigan and Detroit have asked a federal judge to consider sanctioning lawyers Sidney Powell, Lin Wood and several others involved in a case that had challenged Michigan’s presidential election results. Federal rules prohibit lawyers from filing frivolous suits or from using litigation for improper purposes such as to harass or delay. Lawyers also are not allowed to lie in court.

An attorney representing the pro-Trump lawyers has called the request for sanctions “baseless” and “procedurally improper” and warned that imposing sanctions could dissuade future lawyers from bringing cases related to voting rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Linda V. Parker is scheduled to hear the request on July 6. Earlier this month, she issued a terse order that every attorney whose name appeared on any brief in the case “shall be present” at the hearing.

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In March, a federal judge in Washington referred another lawyer, Minneapolis-based Erick G. Kaardal, to an attorney grievance committee for an investigation over a last-ditch lawsuit he filed in December seeking to stop Biden from taking office. Kaardal has appealed the order. And in Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers (D) has asked a federal judge to order Trump and three of his attorneys to pay the state’s attorneys’ fees in a case the former president filed in December unsuccessfully challenging Biden’s win in the state. They are required to respond by July 12.

Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law and an expert in legal ethics, said the standard for suspending a lawyers’ license while disciplinary hearings are still underway is high. “Courts are really reluctant to do it,” he said.

Disciplinary proceedings can last for years, meaning Giuliani’s license could be suspended for a lengthy period — and the interim suspension bodes poorly for his ultimate prospects of getting his license restored, Gillers said.

“I’m surprised and gladdened by what the court did here,” added Gillers, who helped draft a complaint asking state courts to investigate Giuliani’s conduct. “It has confirmed that his behavior creates an ongoing risk to clients and courts and others with whom he, as a lawyer, would be dealing.”

Gillers said it was also significant that Giuliani is being disciplined in part because, the judges said, he lied to the public. It was unclear before the ruling that such an act was grounds for a law license suspension.

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Concurrently, Giuliani faces a Justice Department investigation into his dealings with Ukrainian figures ahead of last year’s election. Investigators are seeking to determine whether, in his bid to find information that would prove politically damaging to Biden, Giuliani violated a law that requires agents of foreign interests to register with the U.S. government.

Giuliani, who once led the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office now scrutinizing his activities overseas, has not been charged with a crime and adamantly denies wrongdoing in any of his dealings on behalf of the former president.

As part of a Justice Department investigation, FBI agents in April seized 18 phones and computers from Giuliani’s home and office in Manhattan. A federal judge has appointed an outside lawyer to review the seized material and separate any data that may be covered by attorney-client privilege from any evidence related to the investigation.

Two Giuliani associates who aided his work in Ukraine, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, have been charged with campaign finance violations and other crimes. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Trump and his business have been the focus of investigators working for the Manhattan district attorney and the New York state attorney general. Those authorities have subpoenaed tax, banking and insurance records from Trump’s company and business partners. The former president has denied any wrongdoing and dismissed the investigations as politically motivated.

Helderman and Barrett reported from Washington.