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Lawyers urge California bar to probe key advisor's role in Trump bid to overturn 2020 election

LA Times logo LA Times 10/4/2021 David G. Savage
Chapman School of Law professor John Eastman testifies on Capitol Hill in 2017 at a House Justice subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet hearing on restructuring the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. (Associated Press ) © (Susan Walsh / Associated Press) Chapman School of Law professor John Eastman testifies on Capitol Hill in 2017 at a House Justice subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet hearing on restructuring the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. (Associated Press )

A group of prominent lawyers, including former governors and judges, urged the California bar on Monday to launch an investigation into John C. Eastman's role in advising President Trump on how he could overturn his election defeat, including by having his vice president refuse to count the electoral votes in seven states won by President Biden.

Eastman, a former law professor and dean at Chapman University in Orange County, emerged as a key legal advisor to Trump in the weeks after it was apparent he had been defeated in the November election. He wrote two legal memos that advised Vice President Mike Pence he could decide the results in several states were disputed and therefore that their electoral votes would go uncounted. Doing so would have turned Trump from a loser to the winner.

Trump repeatedly pressed Pence to follow Eastman's advice. But Pence understood correctly that the Constitution gave the the vice president a quite limited role. He presides in Congress on the day when the electoral votes are counted, but he has no role beyond opening the envelopes and announcing the state-by-state results.

Despite Trump's pressure, Pence decided he would follow the law, not the advice from Eastman.

A nonpartisan legal group called States United Democracy Center said the State Bar should look into what Eastman did.

"We write to request that the State Bar investigate serious evidence of professional misconduct by Professor John C. Eastman in connection with his representation of former President Donald J. Trump in efforts to discredit and overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election," they said.

"The available evidence supports a strong case that ... Mr. Eastman violated his ethical obligations as an attorney by filing frivolous claims, making false statements, and engaging in deceptive conduct.... On January 6, 2021, Mr. Eastman continued this pattern of misconduct by giving the crowd at the 'Stop the Steal' rally on the National Mall another version of his misleading advice and stating that, by rejecting it, Mr. Pence had proved himself undeserving of his office."

In response, Eastman said "I trust the bar association will see this as the politically-motivated and defamatory attack on my legal representation of a controversial client that it is and summarily dismiss it. But if not, I look forward to responding in full to every false assertion."

The letter was sent to George S. Cardona, chief trial counsel at the Los Angeles office of the State Bar of California. The signers include former governors Christine Todd Whitman, a New Jersey Republican, and Steve Bullock, a Montana Democrat; retired California Supreme Court Justices Kathryn Werdegar and Joseph Grodin; retired California federal judges Thelton Henderson, Fern M. Smith and Lowell Jensen; and UC Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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