Bloomberg Law
June 20, 2023, 9:00 AM

Trump Lawyer Eastman’s License in Jeopardy at Disciplinary Trial

Joyce E. Cutler
Joyce E. Cutler
Staff Correspondent

Donald Trump adviser John C. Eastman will enter a Los Angeles courtroom on Tuesday to defend his actions during and after the presidential election as he fights to keep his law license.

The California State Bar charged Eastman with 11 counts of ethical and statutory violations in helping Trump undermine the 2020 presidential election results that culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021, raid on the US Capitol.

He will contest those allegations during a projected eight-day trial in the California State Bar Court, the only US court dedicated to attorney discipline. He will call upon former Judge Janice Rogers Brown and a fellow conservative lawyer, University of California Berkeley Law Professor John Yoo, to attest to his moral character.

Bar Court Judge Yvette D. Roland granted prosecutors’ bid to limit or exclude testimony from Brown and New York Law professor Rebecca Roiphe, whom Eastman sought to call as a First Amendment expert witness.

Roland excluded Brown’s testimony on the nature of the charges against Eastman as “not relevant to the court’s determination” of his culpability for violating the law or professional rules. And Roiphe’s testimony would be “of no benefit” to the court, which will make its own determination whether his statements warrant First Amendment protection.

The bar says Eastman’s advice that Vice President Mike Pence could disregard or delay the electoral vote count was contrary to history, law, and precedent, including the Electoral Count Act and the 12th Amendment, and that he either knew that or was grossly negligent in not knowing it.

“The State Bar of California has been criticized, and at times rightfully, for having failed to prosecute lawyer misconduct,” said Ellen Pansky, with Pansky Markle Attorneys at Law, who defends lawyers before the State Bar Court.

One charge alleges Eastman violated California Business and Professions Code Section 6068(a), failure to support the US Constitution and laws. Roland could recommend discipline up to and including disbarment, and then forward the case to state supreme court justices, who oversee discipline and admission, for action.

Under Section 6068 and state rules, it’s “unethical for a lawyer to lie or engage in ‘an artifice or false statement of fact or law,’” Pansky said. “If the State Bar has clear and convincing evidence of one or more willful false and/or misleading statements made by a lawyer while engaged in the practice of law, then the charges are well-founded, and the State Bar is acting within its authority to pursue charges.”

Eastman hasn’t been charged with any crimes related to the role he played leading up to the Jan. 6 attack, but last year a federal judge in California held that Eastman and Trump “more likely than not” committed criminal conduct. In that case, Eastman was fighting efforts by the now-disbanded Jan. 6 congressional committee to obtain his emails as part of its investigation. US District Judge David O. Carter found the committee had made its case to pierce attorney-client privilege by a preponderance of the evidence.

Three Days

Eastman will have three days to present witnesses and defend his actions. He called the charges “a travesty of justice,” and asked for contributions to his legal defense fund, which has raised $315,422 as of June 16.

Susan Margolis, a longtime Southern California attorney representing lawyers before the bar, said that a potentially comparable case is that of Donald Segretti, who was disciplined in the 1970s for “‘engaging in covert, deceitful activities’ on behalf of Richard Nixon during his re-election campaign.”

“The political optics are somewhat similar—but procedurally, Segretti’s was a much easier case for the Bar prosecution to prove, since it came to them after Segretti was already convicted of various crimes,” Margolis said in an email.

Eastman lawyer Randall Miller, with Miller Law Associates APC, said attorneys “have ceaselessly answered the call for challenging aberrant governmental action, shining light on laws, conduct, and behavior when no one else would fill the breach,” pointing to decades of work “unsuccessful and unpopular at first, by activists and lawyers leading to Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.”

“In light of that role, this is a stunning precedent the Bar is setting, a government action that thwarts the exercise of First Amendment rights to petition courts for redress, deters the exercise of expressive rights, and chills a lawyer’s advocacy to the bone. And which would not be punished if made by a private citizen, as assuredly protected speech,” Miller said in an email.

Eastman is one of several lawyers to face ethics complaints after backing Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s law license was suspended in his home state, as well as in Washington, D.C., where disbarment proceedings are also pending.

Sidney Powell, who led failed “kraken” legal contests to President Joe Biden’s wins in battleground states, is facing disciplinary cases in Texas and Michigan. A judge tossed out the Texas case earlier this year but bar regulators are fighting to revive it. Jenna Ellis was censured earlier this year by the Colorado Supreme Court after she admitted repeatedly making public misrepresentations about the election.

Visitors to the one-time Chapman University Law dean’s page on the school’s website are met with an error message.

The case is In re Eastman, Cal. State Bar, No. SBC-23-O-30029, trial 6/20/23.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Carmen Castro-Pagán at; Nicholas Datlowe at; Drew Singer at

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