This is worrisome in the long term, even if one thinks that Team Trump’s legal challenges in the election are without much merit in the short term. After paying the law firm of Porter Wright nearly three-quarters of a million dollars to represent them in post-election issues, Team Trump got dumped by them first last night in Pennsylvania, and presumably elsewhere soon. Did they pull out over a conflict with their client — or because of political correctness and pressure?
Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, the law firm leading the Trump campaign’s efforts to cast doubt on the presidential election results in Pennsylvania, abruptly withdrew from a federal lawsuit that it filed days earlier on behalf of President Trump.
“Plaintiffs and Porter Wright have reached a mutual agreement that plaintiffs will be best served if Porter Wright withdraws,” the law firm said in a federal court filing.
The firm’s withdrawal followed an article in The New York Times on Monday described internal tensions at the firm about its work for Mr. Trump’s campaign in Pennsylvania. Some employees said they were concerned that the firm was being used to undercut the integrity of the electoral process. One Porter Wright lawyer resigned in protest over the summer.
Porter Wright, based in Columbus, Ohio, has received at least $727,000 in fees from the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, according to federal election disclosures.
This might be the result entirely of client pressures, especially in Pennsylvania. Donald Trump and his campaign keep making claims about fraud and irregularities that his attorneys can’t claim in court. The most famous/notorious of these is the claim that Republican observers got locked out of the ballot-counting process in PA, a claim which their attorneys had to admit wasn’t true in court or risk sanctions and their ability to practice law. If their client has been pressuring them to make false arguments in court, that could explain a reluctance to continue.
However, the timing on Porter Wright’s move seems curious, if so. That exchange in court took place a week ago. Yesterday, however, the New York Times highlighted internal divisions and external pressures on Porter Wright and Jones Day, another storied Ohio legal firm retained by Team Trump, over their participation in election challenges.
Doing business with Mr. Trump — with his history of inflammatory rhetoric, meritless lawsuits and refusal to pay what he owes — has long induced heartburn among lawyers, contractors, suppliers and lenders. But the concerns are taking on new urgency as the president seeks to raise doubts about the election results.
Some senior lawyers at Jones Day, one of the country’s largest law firms, are worried that it is advancing arguments that lack evidence and may be helping Mr. Trump and his allies undermine the integrity of American elections, according to interviews with nine partners and associates, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs.
At another large firm, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, based in Columbus, Ohio, lawyers have held internal meetings to voice similar concerns about their firm’s election-related work for Mr. Trump and the Republican Party, according to people at the firm. At least one lawyer quit in protest.
Jones Day has earned more than $20 million doing business with Trump, his campaigns, and the RNC over the last five years, $4 million in this year alone. That’s a lot of income, and it pays more than a few salaries. Yet this seems to be the bigger concern among some of its attorneys:
In recent days, two Jones Day lawyers said they had faced heckling from friends and others on social media about working at a firm that is supporting Mr. Trump’s efforts.
A lawyer in Jones Day’s Washington office felt that the firm risked hurting itself by taking on work that undermined the rule of law. “To me, it seems extremely shortsighted,” the lawyer said.
That in itself is nonsense. Pursuing election challenges is not “undermining the rule of law,” but an exercise in law, as attorneys should especially know. I quoted Fordham Law professor Jed Shugerman in my earlier post, but he’s worth quoting again here:
The lawsuits may prove to be the best way to legitimize President-elect Joe Biden’s victory and draw to a close years of bogus complaints about voter fraud. The lack of merit in the legal complaints means they will be dead on arrival in the courts, and while the resounding rejection of Trump’s fantasies by judges will not persuade his fiercest loyalists, it will prevent conspiracy theories from spreading.
It is also a bad idea, as a general matter, to object to election law litigation: In two years, or four years — and possibly in two months in Georgia — the shoe may be on the other foot. It would look hypocritical to condemn the very idea of challenging an election result now, only to turn around and do so in different (albeit more legitimate) circumstances.
Does it undermine the rule of law to appeal a conviction of a murder defendant one knows to be guilty on technical grounds? Should attorneys only take on clients who are popular and whose causes they agree with? The true undermining of the rule of law is the hounding of lawyers based on the clients they accept. Trump can always find law firms that will take him on as a client, but if these social-media mobs and examples of law-firm wokery set these kinds of precedents, unpopular defendants, plaintiffs, and respondents will eventually find themselves locked out of the legal system.
That will undermine the rule of law, not representing a client in futile efforts in legal challenges to election results.
When people criticize attorneys for the clients they have represented, especially in a political campaign, the standard lawyer response is also the correct and true one: every client deserves representation in the legal process. If that ceases to be the standard and the value of the legal profession, then heaven help the lawyers to come, and heaven help us all when we need representation. That matters a lot more than Trump’s futile fights in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Update: I edited the headline for greater precision shortly after publishing.
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