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'BS on stilts': Legal experts squash new attempt to tarnish Neil Gorsuch with ethics questions

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Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Legal experts are poking holes through the media's latest attempt to tarnish one of the Supreme Court's conservative-leaning justices.

What is the latest claim?

Politico raised allegations of apparent ethical violations against Justice Neil Gorsuch on Tuesday by suggesting he improperly failed to disclose an alleged key detail of a property transaction.

After Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court in April 2017, Brian Duffy, CEO of the Greenberg Traurig law firm, purchased a Colorado property owned by Walden Group LLC, a small business in which Gorsuch held a 20% stake.

The financial disclosure form that Gorsuch filed for 2017 shows the Walden Group LLC transaction — which generated income of between $250,001 and $500,000 for Gorsuch — but does not list the identity of Duffy as the purchaser. Politico tried to make this apparent omission an impropriety by noting that Greenberg Traurig has been involved in about two dozen cases before the Supreme Court since the transaction.

Politico only quoted one apparent legal ethics expert — Kedric Payne, a former Obama administration official — to draw suggestive conclusions about Gorsuch's apparent omission. Payne claimed that "this transaction appears to also require naming the buyer."

But what's the problem?

Numerous legal experts squashed the idea that Gorsuch is guilty of any wrongdoing.

One lawyer on Twitter described Politico's story as "worse than nonsense" because it "skims along the edge of libel while taking advantage of the fact that somewhere between half and 90 percent of its readers wouldn't know why it's BS on stilts."

According to this lawyer, Politico basically confused the sale of the property with the disposition of Gorsuch's stake in Walden Group LLC, whose only asset was the property. Therefore had Gorsuch listed Duffy as the purchaser on his financial disclosure forms, then "he would have been lying under oath," he explained.

"Politico confuses Walden Group's sale of property with termination of Gorsuch's interest in Walden Group. There was no counterparty to report on latter," agreed lawyer Ed Whelan.

"Politico doesn’t understand how LLCs work and is unfairly smearing Gorsuch with its ignorance — or dishonesty," said Ted Frank of the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute.

Additionally, Stephen Gillers, a New York University professor and legal ethics expert, told the New York Times that Gorsuch did not break the law.

Meanwhile, David Harsanyi explained how Politico is trying to hold Gorsuch to a "completely new standard":

I went back and looked at all the disclosure forms of Supreme Court Justices in 2017, and none of them made a single notation in that column for any transaction. And, as far as I can tell, that line has never seen as much as a scribble from any justice in any year. Politico is holding Gorsuch to a completely new standard.

Anything else?

Important to the story is the fact that Gorsuch and Duffy do not have a relationship — and they've never even spoken to one another.

"I've never spoken to him," Duffy told Politico. "I've never met him."

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