Two-Tiered Justice: Trump Lawyer, Conservative Legal Icon John Eastman Disbarred

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File

The attorney and former law school dean facing imminent disbarment from the California Bar, based on a recommendation by California Bar Court Judge Yvette D. Roland for his legal work in support of President Donald J. Trump’s attempts to resolve irregularities in the 2020 presidential election, promised to fight for his reputation and livelihood in a statement released his legal team.

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“Any reasonable person can see the inherent unfairness of prohibiting a presumed-innocent defendant from being able to earn the funds needed to pay for the enormous expenses required to defend himself in the profession in which he has long been licensed,” said the statement released by Randy Miller, the California attorney for John C. Eastman, the director of the Claremont Institute's Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence.

“That is not justice and serves no legitimate purpose to protect the public,” Miller said.

Roland’s recommendation was based on a case brought by the Office of Trial Counsel for the State Bar of California.

“It is recommended that John Charles Eastman, State Bar Number 193726, be disbarred from the practice of law in California and that his name be stricken from the roll of attorneys,” the judge said in her 182-page opinion.

In addition to losing his California law license, Roland recommended that Eastman pay $20,000 in fines: $10,000 to the State Bar of California Client Security Fund for what she called unethical conduct, $5,000 for his actions in support of challenges to the 2020 election before it was certified by Congress, and $5,000 for what Roland called false statements about the process for challenging the election.

Roland ruled that Eastman’s law license become inactive, pending the exhaustion of his appeals, which could go to the state Supreme Court.

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Miller said Eastman, who was once the dean of Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law and maintained a relationship with the school as a professor and scholar until his January 2021 resignation, does not accept that his conduct was unethical.

“Dr. Eastman maintains that his handling of the legal issues he was asked to assess after the November 2020 election was based on reliable legal precedent, prior presidential elections, research of constitutional text, and extensive scholarly material,” Miller said.

“The process undertaken by Dr. Eastman in 2020 is the same process taken by lawyers every day and everywhere – indeed, that is the essence of what lawyers do,” he said.

“They are ethically bound to be zealous advocates for their clients – a duty Dr. Eastman holds inviolate. To the extent today’s decision curtails that principle, we are confident the Review Court will swiftly provide a remedy,” he said.

Roland held Eastman guilty of 10 of the 11 counts brought against him.

The judge addressed Eastman's assertion that he had an obligation to advocate for his client aggressively: 

While attorneys have a duty to advocate zealously for their clients, they must do so within the bounds of ethical and legal constraints. Eastman's actions transgressed those ethical limits by advocating, participating in, and pursuing a strategy to challenge the results of the 2020 presidential election that lacked evidentiary or legal support. Vigorous advocacy does not absolve Eastman of his professional responsibilities around honesty and upholding the rule of law. While his actions are mitigated by his many years of discipline-free practice, cooperation, and prior good character, his wrongdoing is substantially aggravated by his multiple offenses, lack of candor and indifference. Given the serious and extensive nature of Eastman's unethical actions, the most severe available professional sanction is warranted to protect the public and preserve the public confidence in the legal system.

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Roland: Eastman worse than Nixon dirty trickster Segretti

In her opinion, Roland compared Eastman to the effort to disbar Donald H. Segretti, who was part of the team of University of Southern California alumni working for President Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign, who played so-called “dirty tricks” on Democratic presidential candidates.

Segretti is an Army JAG veteran, and he was part of the group that created a letter to the Manchester Union Leader claiming that Maine Democrat Sen. Edward Muskie, while campaigning for president in Florida, laughed when a staffer told a man that there were no blacks in Florida, but there were French Canadians—using a common slur for that group. 

The controversy and how the senator handled the "Canuck Letter" drove Muskie out of the race.

The New York Times gave a detailed July 22, 1973, report of dirty tricks played by Nixon campaign staffers that included these pranks played on future Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, attributed to Segretti:

They also ordered several dozen flowers, 50 pizzas, 50 buckets of fried chicken, and two limousines in the name of George Mitchell, Muskie's advance man, and had them sent to Muskie's hotel.

Three weeks later, in Washington, some strikingly similar tactics pestered the Muskie forces. On April 17, Muskie threw a fund‐raising dinner for 1,300 people at the Washington Hilton. That day, a $300 supply of liquor, a $50 floral arrangement, 200 pizzas, some pastries and even two magicians from the Virgin Islands arrived unordered.

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That night, Segretti was not yet done with the Muskie campaign, and his next prank involved future Secretary of State Madeline Albright.

Then, the Embassy of Niger called to say that the chargé d'affaires was coming and asking when the limousine would pick him up. “We hadn't invited anybody from foreign embassies,” Madalyn Albright, the dinner's organizer, told The Washington Star News

“This was an internal thing for Democrats, but you can't offend foreign dignitaries, so we said come ahead, but that there would be no limousine.”

"The evening started out with a small V.I.P. cocktail party. I was there when I saw a couple arriving. They were dressed in batik, so I went up and said, ‘You must be the chargé from Niger.’ But it wasn't. He said he was the Ambassador from Kenya. Upstairs, we got a call that the Ambassador from Afghanistan was arriving. 

"Finally, 16 ambassadors showed up, all from African and Middle Eastern countries. Since this was a seated dinner, it caused us a little bit of pain trying to seat them without causing embarrassment. Later on, we discovered that they had all come in rented limousines. We were presented with the bill for the limousines.”

In his 1976 case, Segretti avoided disbarment, and his law license was suspended for two years, and it is still active.

For his dirty tricks, he pleaded guilty to two federal charges and served four years in federal lockup.

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The judge said it was an essential distinction that Segretti expressed remorse while Eastman did not.

“The scale and egregiousness of Eastman’s unethical actions far surpasses the misconduct at issue in Segretti,” she said.

“Unlike Segretti, whose offenses occurred outside his role as an attorney, Eastman's wrongdoing was committed directly in the course and scope of his representation of President Trump and the Trump Campaign,” she said. 

“This is an important factor, as it constitutes a fundamental breach of an attorney’s core ethical duties,” she added.

Eastman also faces Fulton County RICO charges

Miller also called attention to Eastman’s legal entanglements in Fulton County, Georgia, in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act case brought by that county’s District Attorney Fani Willis

In that case, Willis secured an indictment against Eastman and 18 others, in effect accusing a cadre of Trump campaign supporters and staffers of being the same as the Mafia or a terrorist organization as they worked to resolve election irregularities in Georgia’s 2020 presidential election.

“Dr. Eastman is facing serious and complex criminal charges in an unprecedented criminal RICO action in Fulton County, Georgia, where one of his co-defendants is the former president of the United States and presumptive Republican nominee for reelection to that office,” Miller said.

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“He has not been convicted of any crime and in the eyes of the law he is presumed innocent,” he said. 

“Dr. Eastman remains adamant that in his case, that presumption is absolutely correct.”

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