Ellis Complaint is Latest in Series of Actions Seeking to Hold Attorneys Accountable for Undermining Democracy; Complaint Argues that Ellis Knowingly Advanced Baseless Legal Theories and Falsehoods to Assist in Trump’s Efforts to Overturn 2020 Election Results
Denver, CO – The States United Democracy Center today submitted an ethics complaint against Jenna Ellis, an attorney licensed in Colorado, for assisting in former President Donald Trump’s attempts to discredit and overturn the free, fair, and accurate 2020 presidential election results. The complaint’s request that the Colorado Supreme Court’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel (OARC) open an investigation into Ellis’ conduct is supported by more than a dozen bipartisan signatories, including former Republican officials, leading law professors, and the Bush and Obama White House ethics advisors.
The complaint offers a detailed analysis of information that strongly supports the request to open an investigation into whether Ellis violated her professional and ethical obligations as an attorney. It focuses on her efforts to convince then-Vice President Pence to refuse to open and count lawfully certified electoral votes from six states on January 6, 2021, at the Joint Session of Congress. The complaint also describes Ellis’ attempts to falsely discredit the 2020 presidential election as fraudulent.
“Jenna Ellis called herself a member of former President Trump’s ‘elite strike force team’ and used her law license to advise Trump and others on how to overturn the will of the American people,” said Aaron Scherzer, Senior Counsel at the States United Democracy Center. “Postponing the counting of electoral votes as Ellis recommended was unlawful and would have had devastating consequences for our democracy.”
The complaint discusses two memos authored by Ellis in which she argued, based on frivolous legal theories and the false claim that some states had lawfully certified two slates of electors, that Pence should not count the electoral votes of six states on January 6 and instead ask the states to “confirm which of the two slates of electors have in fact been chosen.” After Election Day 2020, at the urging of Trump allies, Trump supporters in multiple states submitted documents to the National Archives falsely claiming to cast electoral votes for Trump. But there were not two sets of lawfully certified electors in those states; lawsuits disputing the election results in those states had consistently failed, every official audit and recount had confirmed President Joe Biden’s victory, and those states had certified only one slate of electors for Biden in accordance with law.
“Jenna Ellis spread lies and conspiracy theories to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 election. Falsehoods like that led to a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and still pose a threat to our free and fair elections today.” said Christine P. Sun, Senior Vice President of Legal at the States United Democracy Center. “At States United, we are committed to holding attorneys accountable who pushed—or continue to push—lies that threaten our democratic system.”
The complaint also describes Ellis’ false and misleading statements related to the 2020 election. Those statements include ones made while she and Rudy Giuliani toured states that had voted for Biden and met with state legislators to urge them to certify alternate slates of electors based on false theories of voter fraud and inaccurate information about the operation of state law.
More than a dozen bipartisan legal experts and former state leaders signed on in support of the complaint’s request that the OARC open an investigation into Ellis’ conduct. The list of signers includes the States United leadership team—Co-Chair Norm Eisen, former Ethics Czar in the Obama White House, Co-Chair Christine Todd Whitman, former New Jersey Governor, and CEO Joanna Lydgate, former Chief Deputy Attorney General of Massachusetts—as well as Governor Steve Bullock, Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Representative Tom Coleman, the Honorable Frankie Sue Del Papa, Professor Claire Finkelstein, the Honorable Jim Hood, the Honorable Patricia A. Madrid, Professor Richard W. Painter, the Honorable Sarah Saldaña, and Professor Laurence H. Tribe.
“Legal luminaries and leaders from both sides of the aisle and across the country are standing up to hold Jenna Ellis and other lawyers accountable for their harm to our democracy,” said former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, Co-Chair of the States United Democracy Center. “An investigation by the OARC would be an important step to shed new light on her baseless attempt to interfere with the results of a free, fair, and secure election, and prevent others from going down a similar dangerous path in future elections.”
Key excerpts from the complaint include:
“Ms. Ellis was retained as a ‘senior legal adviser’ to Mr. Trump and his campaign. After the 2020 election, Ms. Ellis made numerous public misrepresentations alleging fraud in the election—even as federal and state election officials repeatedly found that no fraud had occurred that could have altered the outcome and even as Mr. Trump and his allies brought and lost over 60 lawsuits claiming election fraud or illegality. As the fall of 2020 progressed, Ms. Ellis traveled from state to state with Rudolph Giuliani, another attorney for Mr. Trump, spreading misinformation regarding alleged fraud and urging state legislators to intervene in the election and ‘reclaim your authority,’ up to and including certifying alternate slates of electors for Mr. Trump. Ms. Ellis then knowingly and repeatedly assisted Mr. Trump’s various efforts to prevent the outcome of the 2020 election from being recognized by the Electoral College and Congress.
“Ms. Ellis knowingly and willfully assisted Mr. Trump in his scheme to undermine and overturn the election. These efforts included two memoranda (and associated public statements) that contained numerous legally and factually false and misleading assertions. They also involved a course of conduct designed to assist Mr. Trump in his unsuccessful and potentially criminal effort to pressure Mr. Pence to violate the law while presiding over the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.
“Ms. Ellis’s conduct has caused substantial harm and threatened to cause even more. The ethical violations described above occurred in the course of a scheme to corrupt the legitimate transfer of presidential power in our country. It is difficult to imagine a more serious context in which a lawyer could violate their ethical duties. Numerous Americans still believe the false claims that the 2020 election was irredeemably infected by fraud and corruption. And if Ms. Ellis had successfully urged Mr. Pence to follow her advice, it could have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power in our country. To this day, Ms. Ellis shows no remorse for her role in the efforts to overturn the election.”
This ethics complaint against Jenna Ellis is the latest action taken by States United and other legal experts to hold democracy violators accountable for their attempts to undermine the will of the voters in 2020 and contributions to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Read about States United’s California bar complaint against John Eastman and learn more about our accountability work.
About the States United Democracy Center
The States United Democracy Center is a nonpartisan organization advancing free, fair, and secure elections. We focus on connecting state officials, law enforcement leaders, and pro-democracy partners across America with the tools and expertise they need to safeguard our democracy. For more information, visit https://statesuniteddemocracy.org/.