Second ethics panel punishes ex-FBI lawyer for misconduct

A sign of the FBI is seen outside of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington
A sign of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen outside of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington, U.S., March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
  • Kevin Clinesmith's bar license was suspended in Michigan until August 2022
  • A D.C. court this week imposed a retroactive one-year license suspension, which expired last month
  • Clinesmith was sentenced to probation for misconduct during the Russia-Trump investigation

(Reuters) - A second attorney ethics board has punished former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith for misconduct that occurred in 2016 during the bureau's investigation of Russia's contacts with Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Michigan's attorney discipline board on Friday issued a two-year attorney license suspension that Clinesmith had negotiated with bar enforcers and will expire in August 2022. The D.C. Court of Appeals on Thursday had formally signed off on a one-year suspension that expired last month.

Clinesmith, a Michigan native, was sentenced in January to probation after pleading guilty last year to a felony false statement charge. Prosecutors in Washington, D.C., said he altered an email concerning the status of a Trump campaign adviser as a CIA source.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg concluded that Clinesmith had taken a shortcut but had not otherwise intended to deceive a court overseeing surveillance applications that were part of the Russia investigation.

Clinesmith's lawyer in the Michigan ethics case, Donald Campbell of Collins Einhorn Farrell, did not return a message seeking comment on Friday. A lawyer for the Michigan attorney grievance commission also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bar regulators in Michigan and Washington, D.C., proceeded simultaneously with ethics investigations, and there was no requirement that either agency embrace any sanction the other imposed.

The pursuit of two ethics cases in different venues "created some harsh realities" for Clinesmith, Campbell told a panel of the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board at an Aug. 6 hearing, according to a transcript.

"Do you have the capacity to defend this case in D.C. and in Michigan? Of the two, how do you divide those limited resources?" Campbell asked.

Kimberly Uhuru, deputy administrator of the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, which reviews and prosecutes attorney misconduct cases, said at the hearing that discipline involving a misrepresentation to a court has ranged from a 90-day suspension to disbarment.

"Generally, in cases where there are affirmative misrepresentations to courts, you can expect a disbarment under the ABA standards unless you have some very serious mitigation," Uhuru said.

She said the case against Clinesmith "really is unique. So there is not a lot of guidance from the ABA case law. But we started (with) the fact that the presumptive level of discipline here is disbarment."

The grievance commission gave Boasberg "a lot of deference, and that's why you see us not coming in here asking for disbarment," Uhuru said.

The case is Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission v. Kevin Clinesmith, Attorney Discipline Board, Nos. 20-84-AI; 21-12-JC.

For Clinesmith: Donald Campbell of Collins Einhorn Farrell

For the grievance committee: Kimberly Uhuru

Read more:

D.C. court orders ex-FBI lawyer's license suspended for one year

Giuliani, suspended in N.Y., faces attorney ethics probe in D.C.

No prison sentence for ex-FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty in Russia probe fallout

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