Back in November, four top scholars on legal ethics argued in Slate that it was time for courts and state bar organizations to start disciplining lawyers who were pushing Donald Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election had been stolen from him.
A little more than seven months later, a committee of five judges from the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, First Judicial Department, has unanimously suspended Rudy Giuliani’s legal license pending a disciplinary hearing for false claims he made about election fraud as part of his representation of Trump.
Thursday’s ruling is unsparing, with the five judges concluding
there is uncontroverted evidence that [Giuliani] communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump and the Trump campaign in connection with Trump’s failed effort at reelection in 2020.
Normally such an interim ruling wouldn’t result in immediate suspension prior to a full disciplinary hearing, but the judges further concluded that Giuliani’s continued practice of law was a threat to “the public interest.” Giuliani’s attorneys John Leventhal and Barry Kamins responded to the news by saying they would file a response, due within 20 days, and seek a full disciplinary hearing.
While the punishment is severe and the proceedings are serious, reading the meticulous 33-page chronicling and refutation of just a handful of Giuliani’s most blatant and nefarious election lies is actually kind of hilarious. The filing reads as though the five-judge committee went out of its way to show how ludicrous Giuliani’s—and by extension Trump’s—claims of election fraud are.
In cataloging Giuliani’s transgressions, the filing reads as a bemused and indignant greatest hits of Trump 2020 election lies, along with point-by-point refutations and comically timed footnotes. With every other sentence, the judges are almost shouting at the reader, “Get a load of the nerve on this guy!”
Here are some of the most ridiculous of Giuliani’s suspension-worthy antics, as documented by the five-judge committee:
Rudy Falsely Claimed Pennsylvania Had Hundreds of Thousands of Extra Mail-In Ballots Cast
The judges write:
Respondent repeatedly stated that in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania more absentee ballots came in during the election than were sent out before the election.
Giuliani didn’t actually contest that the statement was false, as the judges note, but said he didn’t make the false statements “knowingly.” The judges dismantle this defense:
Respondent claims that he relied on some unidentified member of his “team” who “inadvertently” took the information from the Pennsylvania website, which had the information mistakenly listed (Giuliani affidavit ¶49) There is simply no proof to support this explanation. For instance, there is no affidavit from this supposed team member who is not identified by name or otherwise, nor is there any copy of the web page that purportedly listed the allegedly incorrect data.
During a Hearing in One Pennsylvania Lawsuit, Rudy Falsely Said the Case Was About Fraud
As I noted in November, Giuliani put forth the most absurd possible arguments during his one court appearance as part of Trump’s 2020 legal team, including spending nearly 30 minutes claiming that fraud had occurred in Philadelphia and throughout the country and then “correcting himself” when the judge pointed out that the case at hand did not allege any actual fraud. As the disciplinary committee wrote of this episode:
Respondent’s mischaracterization of the case was not simply a passing mistake or inadvertent reference. Fraud was the crown of his personal argument before the court that day. In his opening remarks, respondent claimed that the allegations in the complaint concerned “widespread, nationwide voter fraud of which this is a part….” He persisted in making wide ranging conclusory claims of fraud in Pennsylvania elections and other jurisdictions allegedly occurring over a period of many years. Respondent argued that the plaintiff’s fraud arguments pertained to the canvassing claim, notwithstanding that there was neither a fraud nor a canvassing claim before the court. Respondent’s fraud argument spanned pages 12 to 31 of the transcript.
Indeed, the judges appeared to have a good time making use of the page numbers in that transcript to point out just how full of crap Rudy is:
Respondent argues that there was no misconduct because he truthfully told the court that day that there were no fraud claims. This defense rings hollow. … Respondent’s so-called admission of the true status of the case did not occur until he was pressed by the court to concede the point at page 118 of the transcript.
Rudy Claimed That Thousands of Dead People, Including Joe Frazier, Voted in the Election
The judges rightfully—and as required by the Rules of Professional Conduct—hit Giuliani for lies told out of the courtroom, including some of those at an infamous press conference in front of Four Seasons Total Landscaping. One of those statements was the claim that 8,021 or 30,000 “dead people” voted in Philadelphia, including legendary boxer Joe Frazier. The judges wrote:
As for respondent’s argument that his misstatements were unknowing, respondent fails to provide a scintilla of evidence for any of the varying and wildly inconsistent numbers of dead people he factually represented voted in Philadelphia during the 2020 presidential election. Although respondent assured the public that he was investigating this claim, respondent has not provided this tribunal with any report or the results of any investigation which supports his statements about how many dead voters he claims voted in Philadelphia in the 2020 presidential election.
The judges also dismantled the absurd logic Giuliani’s defense in this proceeding put forth that because dead voters are sporadically removed from the rolls—and were in 2021—that means dead people voted in 2020:
Respondent claims his statements were justified because the state of Pennsylvania subsequently agreed to purge 21,000 dead voters from its rolls in 2021. This fact, even if true, is beside the point. This statistic concerns the whole state. Purging voter rolls does not prove that the purged voters actually voted in 2020 and per force it does not prove they voted in Philadelphia. It does not even prove that they were dead in November 2020. Moreover, the number of statewide purged voters (21,000) bears no correlation to the numbers of dead voters respondent factually asserted voted in Philadelphia alone (either 8,000 or 30,000). Clearly any statewide purging of voters from the voting rolls in 2021 could not have provided a basis for statements made by respondent in 2020, because the information did not exist.
Finally, the judges took pains to debunk the lie about Joe Frazier:
Regarding Mr. Frazier, respondent claims he reasonably relied on the reporting of a “blogger.” The blog article provided on this motion, however, never claims that Mr. Frazier voted in the 2020 election. Nor could it, because the claims made in the article (in which respondent was quoted) are based upon an alleged review of public records from 2017 and 2018.
Rudy Said Tens of Thousands of Underage People Voted in Georgia
From the ruling:
At various times, respondent claimed that 65,000 or 66,000 or 165,00 underage voters illegally voted in the Georgia 2020 election. The Georgia Office of the Secretary of State undertook an investigation of this claim. … While a small number of voters (four) had requested a ballot prior to turning 18, they all turned 18 by the time the election was held in November 2020.
The judges repeatedly pointed out their skepticism in Giuliani’s sourcing, but the response to the underage voting claim is particularly cutting:
Respondent does not expressly deny the truth of this information. Instead respondent claims that he reasonably relied on “expert” affidavits, including one by Bryan Geels, in believing the facts he stated were true. None of these affidavits were provided to the Court. Respondent claims that Mr. Geels opined that there were “more than 65,000 individuals who voted had registered to vote prior to their 17th birthday” (Giuliani affidavit ¶62). At a bare minimum, the statement attributed to Mr. Geels does not support respondent’s claim that the number of underage teenage voters was 165,000. But respondent’s statement about what was said to him is insufficient as to all of respondent’s statements on underage voters for other reasons. We do not have the affidavit that respondent claims Mr. Geels prepared and he relied on. We do not know when the affidavit was provided to respondent. We do not know what data or source information Mr. Geels relied on in reaching his conclusion, nor do we know what methodology Mr. Geels used for his analysis. Other than respondent calling him an “expert,” we do not know Mr. Geels’ actual area of expertise or what qualifies him as such.
Rudy Said Tens of Thousands of Undocumented Immigrants Voted in Arizona
At various points, Giuliani said 10,000, 32,000, or 250,000 undocumented immigrants voted in Arizona in the 2020 election. From the ruling:
On their face, these numerical claims are so wildly divergent and irreconcilable, that they all cannot be true at the same time. Some of the wild divergences were even stated by respondent in the very same sentence.
Rudy Cited a “Confidential Informant” and Anonymous Sources in His Defense
In one particularly bruising footnote, the judges dismantle Giuliani’s sourcing:
He also relies on a “confidential informant” (Giuliani affidavit ¶82). We do not understand, nor does respondent explain why, as a private attorney seemingly unconnected to law enforcement he would have access to a “confidential informant” that we cannot also have access to. At yet another point respondent claims he relies on a Trump attorney who chooses not to be identified (Giuliani affidavit ¶43). Respondent also refers to hundreds of witnesses, experts, and investigative reports, none of which have been provided or identified (Giuliani affidavit ¶14) and an Excel spreadsheet, also not provided, purportedly listing the names of thousands of deceased voters who allegedly cast ballots in Michigan (Giuliani affidavit ¶51).
Rudy’s Behavior Continued Even After He Was Threatened With the Loss of His Law License
Giuliani’s lone defense is that he did not “knowingly” make all of these false statements, as knowledge that he was lying is a required element to prove misconduct. The judges were largely able to brush this aside by pointing out all of the evidence that contradicted Giuliani’s statements that was available at the time he made them and his own lack of proof. More pointedly, though, they repeatedly noted that Giuliani kept lying even after he had been charged with lying. From the ruling:
Despite the unequivocal evidence provided in this very motion, that Mr. Frazier is not on the Pennsylvania voting rolls, respondent continued to endorse this fictionalized account in the March 4, March 11 and March 14, 2021 episodes of his broadcast radio show Chat with the Mayor, all of which aired after this motion was brought. …
Respondent made statements regarding underage voters in Georgia on his radio show, Chat with the Mayor, at least on January 5, January 7, and January 22, 2021. He then repeated this statement on the April 27th episode of his radio show, after this motion for interim suspension was brought. …
On the April 7, 2021 episode of his radio show Chat with the Mayor, respondent challenged the Georgia Secretary of State’s finding that only potentially two votes were cast in the name of dead voters, despite having no evidence to refute the facts developed after investigation of public records. The April 7th false statement was made after this motion for interim suspension was brought.
Rudy Promises That, From Now On, He’ll Behave
Finally, the judges are completely incredulous at Giuliani’s claim that he’s done telling these lies:
Respondent argues that there is no immediate threat of future harm, because he has and will continue to exercise personal discipline to forbear from discussing these matters in public anymore. …
Notwithstanding respondent’s claim that he has exercised self-restraint by not publicly commenting on the election, there are numerous instances demonstrating the opposite. …
The risk that respondent will continue to engage in future misconduct while this disciplinary proceeding is pending is further borne out by his past, persistent and pervasive dissemination of these false statements in the media. This is not a situation where the uncontroverted misconduct consisted of only a few isolated incidents. Rather, each of the false statements identified and analyzed herein were made multiple times on multiple platforms, reaching countless members of the public. They continued after this motion was brought, and despite respondent facing imminent suspension from the practice of law.
As the judges took pains to note—and in spite of their maybe inadvertently hilarious presentation—this is actually no laughing matter. In their conclusion, they pointed to audits “that arise from the narrative of a stolen election” going on around the country and laws proposed to restrict the vote based on that narrative as major ongoing harm that Giuliani and his cohort continue to cause.
“One only has to look at the ongoing present public discord over the 2020 election, which erupted into violence, insurrection and death on January 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol, to understand the extent of the damage that can be done when the public is misled by false information about the elections,” the judges wrote.
It’s a good thing that some institutions, at least, are finally asserting the authority they have to protect this country from the damage wrought by Trump’s and Giuliani’s big lie.