Band of law professors file ethics complaint seeking disbarment against Kellyanne Conway

Band of law professors file ethics complaint seeking disbarment against Kellyanne Conway
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway is onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Several lawyers submitted a complaint in an attempt to have Conway disbarred for allegedly misleading the press. (Getty Images/Bill O'Leary)

A band of more than one dozen law professors are seeking to disbar Kellyanne Conway, a special counselor to President Donald Trump.

The conduct complaint sent to the D.C. Office of Disciplinary Counsel alleges that Conway misled the media as well as “misused her position” when she promoted Ivanka Trump’s products from the White House briefing room. The complaint additionally alleged that Conway committed ethics violations with her use of the phrase “alternative facts” and her reference to the nonexistent “Bowling Green massacre.”

Signed by 15 law professors from various institutions around the country, the complaint also states that because Conway holds a public office, she has a “higher obligation to avoid conduct involving in dishonest [sic], fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” than other lawyers.

“We do not file this complaint lightly,” the professors wrote. “We believe that, at one time, Ms. Conway, understood her ethical responsibilities as a lawyer and abided by them. But she is currently acting in a way that brings shame upon the legal profession.”

“If Ms. Conway were not a lawyer and was ‘only’ engaging in politics, there would be few limits on her conduct outside of the political process itself,” the letter continues. “She could say and do what she wished and still call herself a politician. But she is a lawyer. And her conduct, clearly intentionally violative of the rules that regulate her professional status, cries out for sanctioning by the DC Bar [sic].”

According to the complaint, Conway — who is licensed by the bar under her maiden name, Fitzpatrick — violated the D.C. Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(c).

That rule states, according to the D.C. Bar, that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”

The professors acknowledge in the complaint that the rule is “admittedly broad” — something that Brian S. Faughnan, a Memphis-based lawyer who specializes in ethics and professional responsibility noted.

The rule’s “broad language has always presented something of a dilemma for lawyers because it reads as if a lawyer can never be dishonest about anything whether they are acting as a lawyer at the time or not without risking discipline against their license,” Faughnan, who is not a signatory on the complaint, told TheBlaze.

“Most lawyers know the rule can’t mean what it literally says,” he continued, pointing to lawyers who might lie to a spouse or child or bluff in a card game as examples.

Faughnan said:

While Ms. Conway’s high-profile political position and the inflammatory nature of repeated references to a terrorist event that never happened could make some think this is how Rule 8.4(c) ought to be used, I just don’t agree. I think when lawyers are engaged in political speech any opprobrium that comes from false statements ought to be left up to the public, political arena. To treat this as a Rule 8.4(c) issue is just a bridge too far in my opinion.

And John F. Banzhaf III, a noted law professor at George Washington University, told the Philly Voice that the complaint “seeks a remedy which appears to be unconstitutional because it would chill the freedom of speech of any political figure simply because he or she was a member of the bar and create an untenable double standard in which a tiny group of unelected officials could wreck someone’s livelihood.”

“The very filing of this complaint upon such specious grounds could open the law professors themselves up to the filing of a bar complaint and subsequent investigation,” he added.

As the Philly Voice reported, Conway’s Washington, D.C., license has already been administratively suspended for nonpayment of bar dues. However, she still holds her New Jersey license.

The complaint was signed by:

  • John Bickers; Northern Kentucky University
  • Bennett Gershman; Pace University
  • Jennifer Kinsley; Northern Kentucky University
  • Russell Pearce; Fordham University
  • Abbe Smith; Georgetown University
  • Susan Brooks; Drexel University
  • Justin Hansford; Saint Louis University
  • Catherine Klein; Catholic University
  • Ilene Seidman; Suffolk University
  • Michael Tigar; Duke University
  • Lawrence Fox; Yale Law School
  • Vida Johnson; Georgetown University
  • William Montross; University of the District of Columbia
  • David Singleton; Northern Kentucky University
  • Ellen Yaroshefsky; Hofstra University

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