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Ex-Trump lawyer, who may be indicted, asks to delay his disbarment proceedings

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Attorney John Eastman is asking for the postponement of a disciplinary proceeding that could end with his disbarment. Eastman is a former law professor and attorney close to former President Donald Trump. The California State Bar says he planned, promoted and assisted Trump in trying to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 election. In all, Eastman faces 11 charges, most related to making false statements and misrepresentations, among them statements at a January 6 rally that the state bar says helped provoke the mob that attacked the Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN EASTMAN: All we are demanding a Vice President Pence is this afternoon at 1:00, he let the legislatures of the state look into this so we get to the bottom of it, and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not.

MCCAMMON: Joining us now is Scott Cummings. He's a scholar and professor of legal ethics at the UCLA School of Law. Thanks so much for your time, Professor Cummings.

SCOTT CUMMINGS: Thanks for having me.

MCCAMMON: First of all, what does it mean for an attorney to be disbarred, and why might it happen?

CUMMINGS: Disbarment is the ultimate sanction. It says that a lawyer's permanently denied the privilege of practicing law, representing clients, full stop. And this happens for the most extreme conduct.

MCCAMMON: And that's what John Eastman is facing. His lawyers say if the proceedings - the disbarment proceedings - are not delayed, that could create a conflict with his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. What does that mean in this context, and what might it suggest in terms of the legal jeopardy he's facing?

CUMMINGS: Well, I think the issue is that he's widely reputed to be co-conspirator number two in the federal indictment that was issued by Jack Smith. And so I think his concern is that if he makes statements in the bar proceedings, they might be used as evidence against him in the event that Jack Smith decides to ultimately indict John Eastman. I think there's a lot of speculation right now that Smith has sort of crafted the indictment to singularly focused on Trump but that he might subsequently decide to pursue the co-conspirators. John Eastman could be in legal jeopardy in that regard.

MCCAMMON: Eastman is not alone in Trump's legal circle in facing disciplinary actions related to efforts to overturn the election. Chief among them, New York and D.C. have already suspended Rudy Giuliani's license to practice. What kind of evidence is needed to successfully discipline attorneys in these cases?

CUMMINGS: Well, the evidence that's required must be provided by clear and convincing evidence. So it's a very high standard. It's interesting, if you look at the charges that have been levied against Eastman in the California proceedings. But the bulk of the claims are really about misrepresentation in the service of bad actions, what the California rules call moral turpitude. And so the evidence that the bar is putting out is that there are lies that have been used to advance bad acts - bad acts like advancing a false theory of how to overturn the election, pressuring Pence to do this, making statements at the Ellipse on January 6 that were designed to whip up the crowd.

MCCAMMON: Obviously, a process like disbarment has big implications for the attorney himself or herself. But what purpose does it serve, say, in, you know, preserving the integrity of the legal system?

CUMMINGS: So part of discipline is about taking out bad actors and signaling what the legal profession stands for. And in this particular case, I think the consequences of not disbarring John Eastman, if, in fact, the evidence stands up in the bar proceedings, are enormous, because if someone can simply get out of trouble, essentially because of their purported personal belief in a different set of facts, then the regulatory function, I think, is is in great peril.

MCCAMMON: Scott Cummings is a professor of legal ethics at the UCLA School of Law. Thanks so much for your time.

CUMMINGS: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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