Giuliani should be disciplined over 2020 election case, ethics panel says

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani delivers remarks on the September 11 attacks during a news conference in New York

By Andrew Goudsward

(Reuters) -Rudy Giuliani violated at least one attorney ethics rule in his work on a failed lawsuit challenging the 2020 election results on behalf of then-U.S. President Donald Trump and should be disciplined, a District of Columbia attorney ethics committee said Thursday.

The committee of the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility will recommend a specific penalty later for Giuliani, who faces accusations that he breached ethics rules against bringing frivolous lawsuits and harming the administration of justice.

The panel could recommend disbarring him, suspending his D.C. law license or formally censuring him.

Hamilton "Phil" Fox of the D.C. Office of Disciplinary Counsel told the panel on Thursday that Giuliani should be disbarred, saying he tried to "ignore the will of the voters" and undermine the U.S. Constitution.

Giuliani's lawyer, John Leventhal, asked the committee to impose either a letter of reprimand or a private admonition.

At the end of Thursday's portion of the hearing, a visibly angry Giuliani accused Fox of engaging in a "personal attack," adding, "I don't know what happened to the defense of lawyers who take on unpopular causes."

Fox declined to comment. Leventhal could not immediately be reached for comment.

The committee's eventual recommendation on how to discipline Giuliani will have to go before the full board then the D.C. Court of Appeals for a final decision.

The committee convened last week to hear allegations that Giuliani, 78, violated legal ethics rules in a lawsuit seeking to invalidate hundreds of thousands of mail-in votes in Pennsylvania. A federal judge rejected the Trump campaign’s arguments.

Giuliani, a former top federal prosecutor in Manhattan and New York City mayor, served as Trump's personal lawyer and was put in charge of the legal strategy to challenge the results of the 2020 election won by Democrat Joe Biden. Giuliani was one several lawyers allied with the Republican president who pressed debunked claims of rampant election fraud.

Leventhal told the panel in closing arguments on Dec. 8 that Giuliani should not be disciplined because the judge in the Pennsylvania case did not accept and never considered the only version of the complaint that Giuliani himself signed.

Leventhal said the crux of the lawsuit was not voter fraud but social distancing restrictions imposed on election observers and policies in some counties that allowed voters to address mistakes on mail ballots.

"A reasonable attorney can make that argument without being frivolous," he said.

Giuliani testified during the proceeding that the allegations in the lawsuit were appropriate for a lawyer building a case for a client. He said Trump’s legal team had limited time to vet allegations of irregularities following the Nov. 3, 2020, election.

Giuliani's New York state law license was suspended in June 2021 after a state appeals court found he had made "demonstrably false and misleading" statements that widespread voter fraud undermined the election.

His D.C. law license was temporarily suspended after the New York decision.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by David Bario and Jonathan Oatis)