False election fraud claims that Rudy Giuliani made when he was representing former President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2020 should make the former New York mayor liable for professional sanctions, an attorney disciplinary committee said Thursday.
The decision by the hearing committee for the DC Bar’s Board on Professional Responsibility is preliminary and non-binding. After another round of hearings in front of the committee, the proceedings then move to the board and eventually to DC’s local court of appeals, the final arbiter on whether Giuliani should be sanctioned.
But the committee’s decision represents a significant step forward in efforts to hold Trump attorneys accountable for their willingness to use the courts to promote his unsubstantiated voter fraud narrative.
Robert Bernius, the chair of the hearing committee, said the DC Bar’s disciplinary counsel who brought the ethics charges, Hamilton Fox, had proven at least one of the charges with “clear and convincing evidence.”
The hearing committee announced its finding after holding multiple days of trial-like proceedings, which featured the testimony of Giuliani and others who worked with him on the Trump campaign legal challenges after the 2020 election.
The ethics charges that were brought by Fox focused on a lawsuit brought by the Trump campaign in Pennsylvania that sought to throw out hundreds of thousands of votes in the battleground state.
Giuliani testified that, at first, he played only a limited role in crafting the lawsuit, contributing a few sentences aimed at setting the case up to be potentially consolidated with other lawsuits across the country that the Trump campaign was contemplating bringing. However, after other attorneys on the case sought to withdraw from it, Giuliani ultimately argued the case in front of a federal judge, claiming there there was “widespread, nationwide voter fraud” and that Democrats had plotted to steal the election in Pennsylvania.
Much of the disciplinary proceedings focused on the amount of vetting of the voter fraud allegations Giuliani did before the lawsuit was filed. Giuliani contended that had the Pennsylvania lawsuit gone to discovery, his team would have been able to gather more evidence that would have supported the voter fraud claims.
“You don’t start a lawsuit being able to prove – I mean, you’re very lucky when you do. You don’t start a lawsuit being able to prove, but being able to responsibly allege,” Giuliani, who also once served as Manhattan’s US attorney, said last week during a hearing. “I was responsibly alleging, based on the things that were told to me by other people. I wasn’t proving – I had a long way to go to prove.”
His attorneys argued to the committee that Giuliani had a reasonable basis to believe that the claims in the lawsuit were true and that he was relying on what others working with the Trump campaign had told him about the allegations.
After the hearing committee announced its preliminary finding, the proceedings moved to a discussion of the sanctions Giuliani should face for the conduct. Fox said that the disciplinary office was recommending that Giuliani be disbarred.
“I can’t think of another case that approaches this in terms of the seriousness of the conduct,” Fox said.
The hearing committee, however, showed some skepticism toward levying that penalty.
“What I am struggling with is: Any time there is a challenge to an election that is unsuccessful, would that constitute sanctionable activity if it is unsuccessful?” committee member Jay Brozost asked Fox.
Fox sought to distinguish the Pennsylvania lawsuit from other kinds of election litigation, such as the lawsuits during the 2000 election, and said Giuliani had participated in a “coordinated” effort to undermine the integrity of the election.
Giuliani’s attorney John M. Leventhal urged the hearing committee to consider his client’s public service and charitable giving. He said that the committee should issue the least serious level of sanctions, such as a private letter of admonition, and warned that a tougher punishment could “chill effective advocacy in the future.”
“Politics should not play any part – we hope and we trust – in this committee’s final recommendation,” Levanthal said.
The hearing committee will issue a report on its proceedings that will include its recommendations. Then there will be a round of hearings in front of the entire board, which can adopt or modify the recommendation. The final decision on disciplining Giuliani will then fall to the DC Court of Appeals.