Ethics and Regulatory Complaints August 11, 2022

Bar Complaints – John Eastman (CA and DC)

Issue Areas

On October 4, 2021 the States United Democracy Center filed an ethics complaint against California bar member John Eastman for his conduct in assisting in former President Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. The complaint requested that the State Bar of California open an investigation into whether Eastman violated multiple rules of professional responsibility in his actions as a lawyer for former President Trump and was supported by 25 bipartisan signatories, including former federal district court judges and California Supreme court justices, numerous former Republican officials, leading law professors and the Bush and Obama White House ethics advisors.

John Eastman is a former law professor and dean at Chapman University School of Law, and represented former President Trump in late 2020 and early 2021. Mr. Eastman played an important role in making false claims about widespread election fraud at the “Stop the Steal” rally, was the author of a two-page memo and a six-page memo that were used to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count or indefinitely delay the lawful Electoral College votes from numerous states, and represented Mr. Trump in the frivolous lawsuit Texas v. Pennsylvania before the U.S. Supreme Court.

On November 17, 2021, States United submitted a supplemental letter to its October 4 complaint to the State Bar of California about John Eastman. The letter incorporated newly reported information, including a draft op-ed written by Greg Jacob, then-Chief Counsel to Pence, in which Jacob urges an investigation into Eastman and other Trump lawyers’ conduct. The supplemental letter also offered a detailed timeline of Eastman’s activities, including descriptions of his conversations with 300+ state legislators alongside Rudy Giuliani on January 2, encouraging them to decertify and replace their states’ lawfully appointed slates of electors, as well as reports of numerous closed-door meetings and public media appearances in which Eastman falsely claimed that the vice president has unilateral power to reject duly appointed electors.

After States United submitted this supplemental letter, the State Bar of California closed our bar complaint on the grounds that none of the signers of the Complaint had “any personal knowledge” of Mr. Eastman’s conduct or “represent any party directly involved.” The Bar’s closing letter said that it would “separately decide” whether to investigate Mr. Eastman’s conduct. But by procedurally closing our complaint, the subsequent progress of any resulting investigation by the Bar will remain confidential.

On February 16, 2022, States United filed an appeal arguing that this purported procedural ground for closing our complaint violates the State Bar Act, is inconsistent with the State Bar’s longstanding and well-settled practices, and represents bad public policy. The appeal expanded on the October complaint to include new information, including a memo Eastman sent to a legislator in Wisconsin in December 2021 that provides Eastman’s legal opinion that the Wisconsin Legislature has the power to “decertify” the state’s electors for the 2020 presidential election — now more than one year after the election.

The State Bar, on March 1, 2022, announced that Chief Trial Counsel George Cardona’s office is conducting an ethics investigation into Eastman. The investigation is “focused on whether Eastman engaged in conduct in violation of California law and ethics rules governing attorneys following and in relation to the November 2020 presidential election.” The Bar’s announcement thanked us and others like us for our prior submissions, noting that they will serve “as the starting point” for the Bar’s investigation.

States United submitted a second supplemental letter on April 14, 2022, to assist with the Bar’s investigation. The letter compiled evidence revealed by the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack as well as a federal judge’s recent findings that Eastman and Donald Trump, in their efforts to convince Mike Pence to reject or delay the counting of electoral votes on January 6, more likely than not violated federal criminal law. The letter also suggested that, given Eastman’s past and ongoing conduct, including recent efforts to decertify the 2020 electors in Wisconsin, the Bar should also consider whether it is appropriate to pursue interim remedies against Eastman in order to protect the public.

On August 11, 2022, States United and Lawyers Defending American Democracy (LDAD) submitted a bar complaint to the District of Columbia’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) requesting that the ODC also open an investigation into Eastman, as the California Bar has already done. The complaint, which was signed by 50 prominent attorneys and former officials from both sides of the aisle, points to the formal charges the D.C. ODC has filed against Trump campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark for their misconduct relating to the 2020 election. In the complaint, the groups outline new information about Eastman’s conduct that has recently come to light and that only increases the need for an investigation. This includes Eastman’s admission that fake electors for Trump would be “dead on arrival in Congress” and his request to Giuliani a few days after the January 6 insurrection to “be on the pardon list.” 

Latest Update

On January 26, 2023, the State Bar of California announced that it was initiating disciplinary proceedings against Eastman and seeking his disbarment for his role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The disciplinary charges contain 11 counts, beginning with failure to support the Constitution and laws of the United States, and include making false and misleading statements that constitute acts of “moral turpitude, dishonesty, and corruption.”

The disciplinary trial against Eastman began in the State Bar Court of California on Tuesday, June 20, 2023, and is ongoing. The latest details on the Court proceedings are available here.

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