The New York State Bar Association has begun an investigation into Rudolph Giuliani’s involvement in the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol. In the words of a letter published by the Association on January 11:
NYSBA President Scott M. Karson has launched an inquiry pursuant to the Association’s bylaws to determine whether Mr. Giuliani should be removed from the membership rolls of the Association.
The letter “strongly condemn[s]” the events at the Capitol, and goes on to state that “the blame [for the] abhorrent incident…lies first and foremost with President Donald Trump.” Nonetheless,
the president did not act alone. Hours before the angry mob stormed the Capitol walls, Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, addressed a crowd of thousands at the White House
and made the ill-chosen remark that
if we’re wrong, we will be made fools of, but if we’re right a lot of them will go to jail. Let’s have trial by combat.
Giuliani’s speech lasted five-and-a-half minutes, and was mostly devoted to claims of voter fraud in the November 3, 2020 presidential election and the January 5, 2021 Georgia senate run-offs. Giuliani brought along his own “constitutional expert”, and, referencing the alleged unconstitutionality of the Electoral Count Act of 1887, repeated the incorrect claim that the Vice President, in his capacity as president of the Senate, had the power to accept or reject the tallies of electoral votes from each state. Although the Constitution might be seen to support that reading, the Electoral Count Act clearly vests the vote-counting power with Congress. Despite Giuliani’s promises to the crowd, there was no way for Mike Pence to overturn the ECA – let alone the election – single-handedly.
Giuliani’s involvement with the claims of voter fraud go back to before his “trial by combat” speech: he spent the two months leading up to it telling anyone who would listen that victory had been stolen from the incumbent President. As a result of this, the NYSBA’s letter claims that the organization
has received hundreds of complaints in recent months about Mr. Giuliani and his baseless efforts on behalf of President Trump to cast doubt on the veracity of the 2020 presidential election and, after the votes were cast, to overturn its legitimate results.
Aside from non-payment of dues, the only way the NYSBA’s bylaws allow for someone to be excluded from membership is by:
advocat[ing] the overthrow of the government of the United States, or of any state, territory or possession thereof, or of any political subdivision therein, by force or other illegal means
In accordance with that, the NYSBA contends that:
Mr. Giuliani’s words quite clearly were intended to encourage Trump supporters unhappy with the election’s outcome to take matters into their own hands. Their subsequent attack on the Capitol was nothing short of an attempted coup, intended to prevent the peaceful transition of power.
The NSYBA is a voluntary association, founded in 1876, and has as a mission “to shape the development of law, educate and inform the public, and respond to the demands of our diverse and ever changing legal profession.” Although respected in its sphere, the NYSBA does not have the power to license or, more to the point, disbar attorneys (that authority is vested in the state appellate court.) Indeed, many members of the New York State Bar choose not to be members of the NYSBA.
While expulsion from the NYSBA would not affect Giuliani’s ability to practice law, disbarment would, and, to that end, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, chairman of the state senate’s judiciary committee, has let it be known that he will file an official complaint with the court seeking Giuliani’s disbarment. Hoylman stated that he was filing his complaint because of Giuliani’s
rampant and egregious violations of the rules of professional conduct related to his part in a scheme to unlawfully overturn the results of a free and fair election, and his complicity in inflaming a violent coup attempt.
While the move for disbarment won’t happen overnight, the NYSBA is moving ahead with its plans, noting, however, that “Mr. Giuliani will be provided due process and have an opportunity – should he so choose – to explain and defend his words and actions.”
Meanwhile, in a text to Forbes magazine, Giuliani called the NYSBA’s inquiry “a political vendetta.”