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Rudy Giuliani's law license suspension likely won't teach him much

The suspension from practicing in New York is temporary — so long as Rudy doesn't make it worse for himself.
Image: Rudy Giuliani
It's a pretty good warning against lying in court to overturn an election.Spencer Platt / Getty Images; MSNBC

In a detailed 33-page opinion, a panel of five judges on Thursday concluded that Rudolph W. Giuliani would no longer be able to practice law in the city where he was once mayor — or in the state of New York at all. His suspension was warranted, the panel determined, because Giuliani had “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.”

In other words, Giuliani clearly lied and because of those lies, he should not be able to practice law, pending the outcome of a formal disciplinary hearing. It should be a warning not just to Giuliani, but to other lawyers who are considering running with Trump’s conspiracy theories in court. But I get the feeling that Giuliani will make things worse for himself before he makes them better.

For all the jokes about shady ambulance chasers, lawyers are supposed to abide by rules of ethics and professional conduct. Each state bar requires this of its members and alleged violations can be evaluated and investigated. If the complaints are sustained, lawyers can face various levels of discipline, up to and including permanent suspension of their license.

The investigation into Giuliani found that he also violated several of the rules of professional conduct governing attorneys practicing in the state of New York. Specifically in Giuliani’s case, the complaints against him are that he lied to the courts and third parties; that he “engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation”; and that his conduct showed that he is not fit to be a licensed attorney. The common denominator of those violations is an unconscionable willingness to lie.

They determined that — in order to protect the public — Giuliani should not be able to continue to lie in his capacity as a lawyer.

The New York Supreme Court justices who issued the ruling went so far to as to call the evidence of these violations “uncontroverted.” As a result, they determined that — in order to protect the public — Giuliani should not be able to continue to lie in his capacity as a lawyer.

When an attorney is accused of such fraudulent conduct, the inevitable consequence is that attorney’s client can be tainted with the same dishonesty. Normally, the stigma that brings both helps to prevent violations among lawyers and leads to an ostracizing among potential clients. But Trump obviously is not bothered by the fact that his attorney is presently no longer able to represent him. In response to Thursday’s ruling, the former president doubled down on his support of Giuliani, issuing a statement that praised his attorney as being a “great American patriot.”

Giuliani is not the only Trump-linked attorney facing sanctions, though. Sidney Powell, who trumpeted Trump’s false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, is due to appear before a federal judge in Detroit in July for her “inexcusable actions” that “eroded public trust in government and dismantled our systems of democracy.” And both are targets of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit for their false claims about election fraud.

The bottom line: There are very real consequences, both professionally and financially, for the intentional actions taken by Trump’s lawyers in the promotion of lies. Without his license, Giuliani is stuck — he cannot represent a client and do things like appear in court on their behalf.

That also means some other lawyer has to do the work he’s left unfinished — but frankly, what other lawyer wants to run the risk of having their own bar license stripped for promoting the same nonsense that got Giuliani suspended in the first place?

Now simply because Giuliani is temporarily stripped of his license does not mean he is gagged from speaking to the press about Trump’s allegedly fraudulent claims. The problem, though, is Giuliani does himself no favors in repeating the very lies that got him temporarily disbarred in the first place. Although this suspension is interim in nature, he is facing an ultimate formal disciplinary hearing that could result in permanent disbarment.

Subsequent bad conduct on Giuliani’s part will only buttress the findings from that five-judge panel. And Giuliani has not shown good judgment thus far, so the outcome doesn’t look very promising for him.

Giuliani’s ticket to play in the legal arena has been punched and he’s out of the game. The very loud and very clear message being sent by this interim suspension should be heeded by all attorneys — but especially those current and prospective lawyers for clients like Donald Trump.