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Will there be repercussions for frivolous Trump election lawsuits? UW law professor says yes

caption: UW Law Professor Hugh Spitzer
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UW Law Professor Hugh Spitzer

It took one sentence for the United States Supreme Court this week to decline to overturn certified election results in Pennsylvania. It was the latest failed attempt by Donald Trump's lawyers to challenge the November election, which he lost.

It's not just judges that are rejecting Rudy Giuliani's arguments. A bipartisan group of over 1,500 lawyers have signed an open letter addressed to the American Bar Association, saying Trump's lawyers need to be held accountable.

One of the signatories is Hugh Spitzer. He teaches Constitutional Law, and Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility at the University of Washington School of Law.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Why sign this letter?

Well, I've been concerned for quite a while, that some of the activities of Rudy Giuliani, Joseph diGenova, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, those lawyers specifically, have violated any number of the basic rules of professional conduct that lawyers are subject to nationwide.

Can you give us some specifics?

Sure. There is, for example, a rule in almost every state, probably every state, that lawyers are not permitted to bring or argue cases on behalf of their clients, unless they have a good faith belief that they have both the law and the facts on their side. This rule has been around, I'm serious, for about 2,000 years in our legal traditions.

It doesn't mean that a lawyer has to have all the facts together, but she or he needs to know that there is really a there there, before they bring an action. These lawyers have gone beyond the bounds in that light.

Whatever energy is behind Trump's legal moves, that may dissipate by the time the electoral college votes and puts the final seal on the election results. That's happening on December 14. If these failed lawsuits just drop out of the news, what kind of discipline could they be facing, if anything?

I went through the rules of professional conduct yesterday. In about 10 minutes, I identified at least eight separate sections of those rules that one or the other, or all of these lawyers have violated. They could face, depending on the state, anything from admonishment, which is a slap on the wrist, sometimes private, sometimes public, up through suspension for a period of time, six months, or a year or two, or disbarment, simply losing their licenses.

These disciplinary systems are run by bar associations or court systems throughout the country, always under the supervision of the courts, with a great deal of due process and hearings, and so on. But ultimately, they could have their licenses suspended, or they could lose their licenses to practice law.

I remember when I spoke with you about this earlier, you asked me if I could tell that you're getting a little bit worked up about this whole issue. Tell me a little bit more about that.

I teach professional responsibility to students. I spend a great deal of time emphasizing their individual obligation to observe the rules and to act in a highly professional way throughout their careers.

I almost put a question on the exam, asking the students to identify how many rules of professional conduct they could find that these people had violated. I didn't do that in the end, but it sure crossed my mind.

Anything else that you think the general public should keep in mind as they see these lawsuits play out?

I think it's really important for people to continue to have confidence, not only in our democratic system and in our electoral system. We have a remarkably honest and fair system, regardless of what some people including the President and these lawyers are saying. They also need to continue to have confidence in our legal system and the regulation of lawyers as part of that system.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

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