Lawyer group says Trump attorney broke ethics rules in fake elector plan

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, in Washington, U.S, January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

(Reuters) - A group of prominent attorneys on Wednesday asked attorney regulators in New York to investigate lawyer Kenneth Chesebro in connection with former U.S. President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn his 2020 electoral loss to Joe Biden.

Chesebro, a New York attorney who worked with the former president's campaign, was a "mastermind" behind an aborted plan to use false electors to re-elect Trump, the advocacy group Lawyers Defending American Democracy wrote in a complaint to the New York court system's attorney grievance committee.

Chesebro allegedly knew his theory that then-Vice President Mike Pence could appoint alternate slates of electors, thereby throwing the election to Trump, "had no basis in fact or law," the group wrote in its complaint.

The complaint, which alleges Chesebro's work violated New York's rules of professional conduct, was signed by 63 lawyers, including past leaders of various New York-based bar associations.

"The available facts shows that Mr. Chesebro abandoned his role as a legal advisor to become an active participant in the scheme to overturn the results of the election," John Montgomery, the former managing partner of law firm Ropes & Gray, said in a statement. Montgomery sits on LDAD's board and co-authored the complaint against Chesebro.

Adam Kaufmann, a senior partner at Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss who is representing Chesebro, declined to comment. Chesebro has previously defended his work with the Trump campaign.

The grievance committee, part of New York state's judiciary, has the power to censure and suspend lawyers and revoke their law licenses if it decides to investigate an attorney. Its proceedings are secret until a final decision is reached.

Lawyers Defending American Democracy, a non-profit, non-partisan attorney group, has also filed complaints against Jeffrey Bossert Clark, former acting head of the Justice Department's civil division, and Rudy Giuliani, Trump's former personal lawyer. The D.C. Office of Disciplinary Counsel is investigating both Clark and Giuliani; Giuliani's New York license was suspended in June 2021.

The 65 Project -- a nonprofit legal activism group named for the number of failed lawsuits purportedly brought to overturn the 2020 election results -- filed its own disciplinary complaint against Chesebro in New York in July.

The 65 Project has filed 55 attorney ethics complaints since its launch last year, said Michael Teter, its managing director.

While its complaints are pending, the 65 Project is shifting its focus to changing the professional rules for lawyers in nearly a dozen states and the District of Columbia, Teter said Wednesday.

"Just as Trump and his allies sought to exploit vagueness in the Electoral Count Act, so too have some lawyers evaded accountability due to gaps in the legal profession's ethical rules," Teter said.

Teter said the proposals will "close the gaps" that allow office-holding lawyers to violate attorney standards "by amplifying knowingly false statements about elections." The proposals will also require lawyers who advise government officials to represent the interests of the office, not the individual, he said.

Teter said the 65 Project has teams of volunteer lawyers who will push their respective state bars to adopt the changes in time for the 2024 election.

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.