As Adams would write in his diary, the defense “procured me anxiety, and obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country."
But advocacy has its limits, and Rudy Giuliani, it is safe to say, is no John Adams. One man defended the defenseless in the greater service of the rule of law; the other asserted the indefensible in the service of overturning the results of an election. And so, on Thursday, New York State Bar authorities took the extraordinary step of ordering Giuliani, once the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, immediately suspended from the practice of law as he faces the prospect of being permanently disbarred.
“We conclude that there is uncontroverted evidence that [Giuliani] communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer for former president Donald J. Trump and the Trump campaign in connection with Trump’s failed effort at reelection in 2020,” the judges overseeing the disciplinary proceedings wrote in a 33-page ruling. “These false statements were made to improperly bolster respondent’s narrative that due to widespread voter fraud, victory in the 2020 United States presidential election was stolen from his client. We conclude that respondent’s conduct immediately threatens the public interest.”
It ordinarily takes quite a bit — stealing client money, or obstructing justice — to get yourself disbarred, and even more to have your license to practice law suspended pending resolution of the proceedings. As a practical matter, Giuliani doesn’t have a booming legal practice; at this point, any client would be a fool to have him for a lawyer. And he has bigger problems than losing a law license he doesn’t really use, including a criminal investigation into his activities by the office he used to oversee.
Still, this is a welcome and entirely justified development. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Giuliani wasn’t the only Trump lawyer to make unsupportable claims about voter fraud, but he was the most prominent. Both in and out of court, Giuliani made repeated false statements: That Pennsylvania received more absentee ballots than it had sent out before the election. That Trump was pursuing a claim of voter fraud in the Pennsylvania courts when in fact he was not. That dead people — sometimes 8,021, at another point as many as 30,000 — voted in Philadelphia, including heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier.
And: That Dominion Voting Systems machines manipulated the final tallies in Georgia. That thousands of underage voters, variously 65,000 or 66,000 or 165,000, cast ballots in Georgia, along with numerous felons and dead people. That security cameras showed Georgia election officials illegally counting mail-in ballots. That “illegal aliens” voted in Arizona.
The disciplinary panel found that these statements violated ethics rules that prohibit lawyers from knowingly making false claims to courts or third parties, and from engaging in conduct “involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” or “that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness as a lawyer.”
In his defense, Giuliani argues that the disciplinary proceeding itself somehow violates his First Amendment rights. Nonsense. As the panel concluded, “this disciplinary proceeding concerns the professional restrictions imposed on respondent as an attorney to not knowingly misrepresent facts and make false statements in connection with his representation of a client.” The First Amendment doesn’t protect that.
In addition, Giuliani contends, he didn’t know the statements were false when he made them. A member of his “team,” he said, “inadvertently” took “incorrect” information from the Pennsylvania state website about absentee votes. He relied on “expert” information. Come on.
Finally, Giuliani says his license shouldn’t be suspended while the proceedings continue because he poses no continuing threat — the election litigation is over and “he has and will continue to exercise personal discipline to forbear from discussing these matters in public anymore.” As the panel recognized, this is no more trustworthy than the rest of Giuliani’s false claims — “persistent and pervasive” statements that he kept making even after disciplinary proceedings were underway.
“The seriousness of [Giuliani’s] uncontroverted misconduct cannot be overstated,” it said. “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.” Coming from Giuliani, “acting with the authority of being an attorney, and using his large megaphone, the harm is magnified.”
Giuliani’s lawyers predicted that he “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.” Let’s hope not. He hasn’t suffered obloquy enough.
What should be Giuliani’s final chapter as a lawyer was a disservice to his profession. But unlike the case of John Adams, it was a disservice to his country.