Boies warns top attorneys against 'toxic' influence of politics in law

Lawyer David Boies walks out of the Southern District of New York court, in New York
Lawyer David Boies gestures as he walks out of the Southern District of New York court, New York, U.S., July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

(Reuters) - David Boies and other prominent lawyers sounded alarms on Wednesday about the effects of incivility and politics on the U.S. legal system, citing topics ranging from the judicial confirmation process to the New York criminal case against Donald Trump.

Boies, speaking at a Washington, D.C., event hosted by the conservative Federalist Society, lamented the process for confirming new federal judges, saying it had become "toxic" and dominated by political considerations.

"We have stopped thinking about who is going to be a good judge in the non-controversial case and are focusing on who is going to be a sure vote on the controversial case," the one-time Senate Judiciary Committee lawyer said.

He was speaking on a panel that included American Bar Association President Deborah Enix-Ross and prominent conservative lawyer Charles Cooper of Cooper & Kirk focused on maintaining civility in the legal profession.

Boies is no stranger to political cases, having represented fellow Democrat Al Gore in his U.S. Supreme Court clash with George W. Bush that decided the 2000 election and later helped overturn California’s gay marriage ban.

Cooper, who represented the opposing side in the California gay marriage case, stressed the need for lawyers to model respectful behavior even in contentious cases.

Boies said the indictment against Trump, the former U.S. president and frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2024, "contributes to the divisiveness" in American society.

“The prosecution that’s going on in New York today is something that I think gravely undermines rule of law, gravely undermines confidence that we have in prosecutorial discretion,” Boies said, referring to prosecutors' broad charging authority.

He declined to elaborate later except to say that prosecutors should have to clear a “higher hurdle” to charge a former president.

Trump was charged with falsifying business records to conceal payments made ahead of the 2016 election to porn actress Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had a sexual encounter with Trump. Trump has pleaded not guilty and accused prosecutors of political motivations.

Some legal experts have questioned the decision to elevate what is otherwise a misdemeanor offense to a felony charge because prosecutors said a second crime was involved.

Prosecutors have so far declined to specify the other offense, but have said in court filings that it may include tax and election law violations.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has defended the case, saying it is typical of white-collar prosecutions brought by his office. A spokesperson for Bragg's office declined to comment on Boies' remarks.

Famed for his liberal advocacy and trial successes, Boies has more recently drawn criticism over his work for Harvey Weinstein, the former Hollywood producer convicted of rape, and Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.

(NOTE: This story was updated throughout with additional details from Wednesday's event and background about the New York criminal case.)

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