Ex-Trump lawyer Eastman should lose state law license for efforts to overturn election, judge says

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge has recommended that conservative attorney John Eastman lose his California law license over his efforts to keep former President Donald Trump in power after the 2020 election.

Eastman, a former law school dean, faced 11 disciplinary charges in the state bar court stemming from his development of a legal strategy to have then-Vice President Mike Pence interfere with the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

State Bar Court of California Judge Yvette Roland's recommendation, issued Wednesday, now goes to the California Supreme Court for a final ruling on whether he should be disbarred. Eastman can appeal the top court’s decision.

“Dr. Eastman maintains that his handling of the legal issues he was asked to assess after the November 2020 election was based on reliable legal precedent, prior presidential elections, research of constitutional text, and extensive scholarly material,” Eastman's attorney, Randall Miller, said in a statement after the ruling. “The process undertaken by Dr. Eastman in 2020 is the same process taken by lawyers every day and everywhere – indeed, that is the essence of what lawyers do.”

The judge found Eastman liable for 10 of the 11 charges, including misleading courts, moral turpitude, making false statements and plotting with Trump to hinder the transfer of power.

“Eastman conspired with President Trump to obstruct a lawful function of the government of the United States; specifically, by conspiring to disrupt the electoral count on January 6, 2021,” Roland wrote in her 128-page decision.

The California State Bar is a regulatory agency and the only court system in the U.S. that is dedicated to attorney discipline.

Eastman separately faces criminal charges in Georgia in the case accusing Trump and 18 allies of conspiring to overturn the Republican's loss in the state. Eastman, who has pleaded not guilty, has argued he was merely doing his job as Trump's attorney when he challenged the results of the 2020 election. He has denounced the case as targeting attorneys “for their zealous advocacy on behalf of their clients.”

He's also one of the unnamed co-conspirators in the separate 2020 election interference case brought by special counsel Jack Smith, but Eastman is not charged in the federal case.

The State Bar of California alleged that Eastman violated the state's business and professions code by making false and misleading statements that constitute acts of “moral turpitude, dishonesty, and corruption." In doing so, the agency says he “violated this duty in furtherance of an attempt to usurp the will of the American people and overturn election results for the highest office in the land — an egregious and unprecedented attack on our democracy.”

In her decision, Roland wrote: "In view of the circumstances surrounding Eastman's misconduct and balancing the aggravation and mitigation, the court recommends that Eastman be disbarred."

Eastman was a close adviser to Trump in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. He wrote a memo laying out a plan for Pence to reject legitimate electoral votes for Biden while presiding over the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 in order to keep Trump in the White House.

Prosecutors seeking to strip Eastman of his law license depicted him as a Trump enabler who fabricated a baseless theory and made false claims of fraud in hopes of overturning the results of the election.

Eastman’s attorney countered that his client never intended to steal the election but was considering ways to delay electoral vote counting so states could investigate allegations of voting improprieties. Trump’s claims of fraud were roundly rejected by courts, including by judges Trump appointed.

The judge wasn't persuaded by Eastman's claim that his actions amounted to no more than a dedicated representation of Trump.

“It is true that an attorney has a duty to engage in zealous advocacy on behalf of a client,” Roland wrote. “However, Eastman’s inaccurate assertions were lies that cannot be justified as zealous advocacy. Eastman failed to uphold his primary duty of honesty and breached his ethical obligations by presenting falsehoods to bolster his legal arguments. Finally, the court notes that acts of moral turpitude are a departure from professional norms and are unequivocally outside the realm of protection afforded by the First Amendment and the obligation of vigorous advocacy.”

Roland did agree with Eastman's attorney on one of the 11 counts. The judge found Eastman’s remarks to a rally in Washington on Jan. 6 did not contribute to the subsequent assault on the Capitol.

Eastman will be placed on involuntary inactive status within three days of the judge's order, which means he cannot practice law in California while the Supreme Court considers the case, the state bar said.

The States United Democracy Center, which filed an early ethics complaint against Eastman, cheered the judge's decision.

“This is a crucial victory in the effort to hold accountable those who tried to overturn the 2020 election. After hearing from almost two dozen witnesses over a 35-day trial, the court found that John Eastman violated his ethical duties to uphold the constitution," said Christine P. Sun, a senior vice president for the nonprofit. “This decision sends an unmistakable message: No one is above the law — not presidents, and not their lawyers.”

Eastman has been a member of the California Bar since 1997, according to its website. He was a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and a founding director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, a law firm affiliated with the Claremont Institute. He ran for California attorney general in 2010, finishing second in the Republican primary.

Eastman was dean of Chapman University law school in Southern California from 2007 to 2010 and was a professor at the school when he retired in 2021 after more than 160 faculty members signed a letter calling for the university to take action against him.