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Judge in California recommends disbarment of pro-Trump attorney John Eastman

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A judge in California is recommending that an attorney who worked for Donald Trump be disbarred for his work trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. John Eastman is a conservative lawyer who pushed false claims of voter fraud and helped craft a plan for Vice President Mike Pence to block or delay the certification of Joe Biden's election. Now he's on track to lose his law license. NPR's Tom Dreisbach has been following the case and joins me now. Good morning, Tom.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So just remind us who John Eastman is and what he did.

DREISBACH: Yeah. He's a big name in conservative legal circles. Was a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former dean of the Chapman University Law School in Southern California. And soon after the 2020 election, he joined the Trump legal team, made all sorts of voter fraud claims and court filings. Judges rejected those claims again and again. And he then helped create this plan for Vice President Mike Pence to block or delay Biden's win in the Electoral College. That was supposed to happen on January 6. And that day, Eastman actually got on stage at the Trump rally wearing a kind of Indiana Jones-type hat and pressured pence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN EASTMAN: This is bigger than President Trump. It is the very essence of our Republican form of government, and it has to be done. And anybody that is not willing to stand up to do it does not deserve to be in the office. It is that simple.

DREISBACH: Now, Mike Pence, of course, refused to go along with that plan. Soon after, a mob stormed the Capitol, injuring 140 police officers. But even while the riot was happening, Eastman kept pushing for this plan.

FADEL: Is that why this judge is recommending Eastman be disbarred?

DREISBACH: Well, Judge Yvette Roland found that Eastman intentionally misled the courts by making voter fraud claims that he basically knew were bogus, she found, and recklessly relying on really flimsy evidence to claim the election was stolen. Judge Roland found that Eastman, quote, "conspired with Donald Trump to obstruct the certification of Joe Biden's victory" and that the scheme was illegal. She writes, quote, "Eastman's wrongdoing constitutes exceptionally serious ethical violations warranting severe professional discipline," and she's recommending both disbarment and a $10,000 fine.

FADEL: OK. So it's a recommendation, not a final judgment. Who makes the final decision here?

DREISBACH: The California Supreme Court gets the final say. And John Eastman says he disagrees with the decision, says he was just zealously advocating for his client, Donald Trump, and he's going to appeal. But, you know, in the meantime, it's important to note the judge's recommendation means Eastman's law license becomes what they call involuntarily inactive. Basically, he's not allowed to practice law...

FADEL: OK.

DREISBACH: ...And that could be a real problem for him. Eastman is also facing criminal charges in Fulton County, Ga., related to this work for Trump, and he said he's worried about paying for his defense if he can't keep working as a lawyer.

FADEL: And this isn't the only case of a Trump lawyer facing some kind of discipline, of course, right?

DREISBACH: Yeah. Several Trump lawyers are facing or have faced some kind of disciplinary action for what they did in the 2020 election. Includes Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, Jeffrey Clark and I talked to an expert about what makes this - what to make of this movement, really, with - her name is Renee Knake Jefferson. She's an expert in ethics at the University of Houston Law Center. And she told me that what happened with Eastman is extremely serious for a lawyer.

RENEE KNAKE JEFFERSON: To be completely disbarred means, you know, a lawyer can never practice law again. And that ends their professional livelihood, at least in that state. So it's very serious. And it is the ultimate sanction that she could have given.

DREISBACH: And she sees these cases as really reasserting the line between zealous advocacy for your client and lying to the courts and intentionally breaking the law, as the judge found here.

FADEL: That's NPR's Tom Dreisbach. Thanks so much, Tom.

DREISBACH: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Tom Dreisbach is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories.