BFF-43, 44 Trump election lawyers on trial in court of public opinion

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Trump election lawyers on trial in court of public opinion

WASHINGTON, Nov 13, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Written in giant capital
letters, it’s nearly impossible to miss the message emblazoned along a
San Francisco street: “Jones Day: Hands off our ballots.”

The Jones Day law firm on the receiving end of the painted directive
is working on US President Donald Trump’s legal crusade against the
outcome of last week’s presidential election.

The outgoing president and most Republican allies have so far
refused to recognize the win of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden,
decrying massive “fraud” and launching a dozen complaints in several
key states.

But the judicial fight is lacking one important element: any
evidence pointing to such fraud.

That fact has put the lawyers of Jones Day and other firms involved
in a bind, with political activists and legal colleagues alike
accusing them of undermining democracy.

The anti-Trump Republican group The Lincoln Project denounced Jones
Day and Porter Wright — another law firm assisting Trump’s effort —
on Twitter.

“Employees of @JonesDay & @PorterWright, do you believe your law
firms should be attempting to overturn the will of the American
people?”

And even other attorneys have challenged their peers’ involvement.

“The deeper they venture down the Trump conspiracy rabbit hole,
armed with nothing more than futile lawsuits premised on flimsy
evidentiary or legal bases, the more their professional reputations
and law licenses are at risk,” lawyers Bradley Moss and Joanne
Molinaro warned in an opinion piece in The Atlantic.

– ‘Frivolous’ –

The American Bar Association’s code of ethics prohibits lawyers from
bringing “frivolous” assertions — claims without legal merit or
evidence — before a court, according to Joshua Davis at the Center
for Law and Ethics at the University of San Francisco.

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“A lot of these (Trump election) cases… seem to come very close to
the line and maybe cross the line into being frivolous,” according to
Davis.

It is rare, however, for judges or bars to impose sanctions for
violating this standard, and Davis told AFP it is unlikely they would
want to insert themselves into “that sort of a political mess” now.

Fordham University law professor Bruce Green has a different dispute
with the cases.

“I think the real criticism is not so much that they’re frivolous,”
he said, “but that they’re not going to prevail.”

“And even if they prevail, they wouldn’t change the election
result,” Green said, noting that the lawyers were likely motivated by
their allegiance to the Republicans, with their work boosting the
party’s fundraising efforts amid the polarizing legal battle.

That doesn’t mean those motives can’t be questioned, Green said.

“Why are they using their professional talent on these cases, rather
than something more worthy of their time and abilities?” he asked.

“But that’s not a legal question.”

– ‘Ideological sympathies’ –

The two firms have defended their positions.

“Porter Wright has a long history of election law work during which
we have represented Democratic, Republican and independent campaigns
and issues,” it told AFP in an email.

But on Friay, the firm announced it was withdrawing from one of the
suits filed by the Trump campaign in the battleground state of
Pennsylvania. It did not give a reason for the move.

In a statement, Jones Day explained the firm is not involved “in any
litigation alleging voter fraud,” but simply representing the
Pennsylvania Republican Party in “an important and recurring
rule-of-law question under the US Constitution” relating to mail-in
ballots.

Pennsylvania is a linchpin in Trump’s efforts to cast doubt on the
electoral process — and where courts are reviewing many Democratic
voters’ choice to mail in their ballots due to the coronavirus
pandemic.

Several Jones Day lawyers have served in the Trump administration,
including former White House legal advisor Don McGahn.

And the firm has donated more than $4 million to the Republican
Party this year, according to the Federal Election Commission.

“I don’t think it’s money,” Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics
professor at New York University, speculated. “(Jones Day) does not
need this business.”

“I think some of what it does may be driven, in part, by ideological
sympathies on the part of the lawyers,” he said, given some partners’
relationship to the Republican Party.

Their work on the case is “perfectly legal and ethical,” he said.

“The problem that Jones Day faces is that it can hurt its
reputation,” Gillers said, noting that clients or potential hires may
be turned off after this episode.

Trump’s legal battles on this front are unusual — and for some,
alarming — in a country accustomed to mostly smooth transfers of
power, even between political rivals.

But, “there are 1.3 million lawyers in the United States,” Gillers
said. “If Jones Day turned down the work, another firm would accept
it.”

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