Six months after the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, attorneys who promoted former President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud are being forced to defend their actions in court.
But some experts say the abuses over the past four years compel the legal profession to perform some deeper soul-searching.
“I just think it’s important, if we are to reset, that our profession is prepared to confront itself and make decisions about who we want to be, who we are and what it’s going to require, which may be uncomfortable, to ensure that we hold our character,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, at an event sponsored by New York University School of Law.
Ifill, who used to teach aspiring attorneys about their roles and responsibilities as “officers of the court,” has been calling for an independent commission to produce a full accounting of how lawyers lost their way.
So far, there’s little public sign of interest in that kind of self-examination. Instead, judges and attorney discipline panels are performing their own investigations, case by case, in a methodical fashion.
This week in Michigan, U.S. District Judge Linda Parker grilled lawyers close to Donald Trump about the actions they took before filing a lawsuit that claimed irregularities in the 2020 election.
“What authority did this court have to decertify election results?” Parker asked.
Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, has been monitoring the election fallout with interest.
“You make a misstatement in court — first of all, don’t do that,” Bharara said. “And if you do, correct it immediately. There’s nothing worse.”
But at the hearing in Michigan, some of the attorneys who are under scrutiny adopted a different approach.
One of them, attorney Lin Wood, said he didn’t read the complaint before it was filed. Another lawyer with ties to Trump, Sidney Powell, said she took “full responsibility” for the paperwork. Powell told the judge she’d practiced law with the highest standards.