On Thursday, June 24, a New York court temporarily suspended Rudy Giuliani’s license to practice law in the state. The ethics violation that prompted the suspension involved false statements Giuliani made. Some believe Giuliani made these statements in an attempt to overturn former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential race. Others argue his statements could have resulted in riots or similar dangerous situations.
What Did the Court Say About Giuliani’s Statements?
Giuliani’s statements suggested rampant voter fraud occurred during the election. He failed to provide evidence to support such claims. In response, an attorney disciplinary committee requested that his license be suspended. They argued Giuliani’s statements represented a violation of professional conduct rules.
The court agreed and recommended a suspension since Giuliani’s statements posed an “immediate threat” to the public. Thus, the court suspended Giuliani’s license, although disciplinary proceedings remain ongoing.
According to the court, “[t]he seriousness of [Giuliani’s] uncontroverted misconduct cannot be overstated. This country is being torn apart by continued attacks on the legitimacy of the 2020 election and of our current president, Joseph R. Biden.”
What is the Legal Community Saying About the Suspension of Giuliani’s License?
Ronald Minkoff submitted the initial complaint to the New York Attorney Grievance Committee. He did so on behalf of multiple lawyers and lawyers’ groups. Minkoff states that suspending Giuliani’s license is a “once-in-a-lifetime decision.”
He also emphasizes its importance. This decision may signal to attorneys that they must always act honestly.
These kinds of temporary (or interim) suspensions are quite rare. New York University legal ethics professor Stephen Gillers says he was “gladdened” by the decision to suspend Giuliani’s license. He was also surprised. Gillers states the standard for justifying such decisions is “very high.”
Gillers also states that the circumstances surrounding this particular decision are unique. An attorney is usually subject to an interim suspension if it’s shown that they’ve cheated their clients in some manner. However, that’s not what happened here.
The rules Giuliani violated prohibit attorneys from making false statements to courts and other parties. According to the decision, an attorney’s false statements can “erode” public trust in lawyers and the legal profession in general.
The buildup to this moment has been significant. Previously, Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) filed an ethics complaint stating Giuliani had “participated in frivolous lawsuits and used our nation’s courts to assault public confidence in the United States electoral system, violating the New York Rules of Professional Conduct.” The New York State Bar Association has indicated they’ve received “hundreds” of complaints regarding Giuliani’s conduct.
Some experts have stated that this case is also unique because Giuliani is a celebrity. Disciplinary authorities often hesitate when taking action against famous individuals. Celebrities typically have substantial resources they can use to fight back against disciplinary action.
Disciplinary authorities also tend to refrain from moving forward when a case involves political matters. To many, the fact that they acted now says a lot about the severity of Giuliani’s misbehavior.
What Happens Now?
Again, this is only a temporary suspension. Disciplinary proceedings still need to conclude. However, the court has stated that Giuliani’s misconduct “will likely result in substantial permanent sanctions at the conclusion of these disciplinary proceedings.”
Giuliani himself has dismissed the suspension of his license as a political decision. He claims the decision “could have been written by the Democratic National Committee.” According to Giuliani, the decision was made “to shut [him] up.” He added that the suspension wasn’t justified because none of his statements resulted in “a protest, a riot, an incident, an anything.”
Still, it appears other courts agree with the New York court’s decision. On July 7, Giuliani’s license to practice law in Washington, DC, was also suspended. The suspension will remain in effect pending the outcome of his New York disciplinary proceedings.
There’s reason to believe that Giuliani will face long-term consequences for his misconduct. We must wait and see how the disciplinary proceedings conclude. Generally, though, many see the suspension of his license as a major development in legal ethics.