A former lawyer for Donald Trump has been publicly censured for spreading “misrepresentations” about the 2020 United States presidential election, including claims that the ex-US president’s legal team could “prove” the vote was fraudulent.
Jenna Ellis reached an agreement with Colorado attorney disciplinary officials on Wednesday acknowledging that she made 10 such “misrepresentations” about the election in television appearances and on Twitter.
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The claims were made as Trump and his allies sought to cast doubt on the former president’s 2020 loss to President Joe Biden. To date, no evidence that the election was marred by widespread fraud has emerged.
Ellis and the state officials agreed that her statements violated a Colorado rule against attorneys engaging in conduct “involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation”, according to the opinion by Judge Bryon Large, the state’s presiding disciplinary judge.
The statements included a claim made on Fox News host Jeanine Pirro’s show on December 5, 2020, in which Ellis said “we have over 500,000 votes [in Arizona] that were cast illegally”.
She also told the conservative network Newsmax on December 15, 2020 that Trump was “the true and proper victor”.
🚨To every news outlet that has reached out, will reach out, or pretended to reach out to me or my lawyers:
You may use the following statements:
“My client remains a practicing attorney in good standing in the State of Colorado. In a very heated political climate, we secured… https://t.co/GMq4h5m5V5
— Jenna Ellis 🇺🇸 (@JennaEllisEsq) March 9, 2023
On November 20, 2020, Ellis also told former Trump spokesman and Newsmax host Sean Spicer: “With all those states [Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia] combined we know that the election was stolen from President Trump and we can prove that.”
The censure effectively serves as a public slap on the wrist, but Colorado’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel said it “reinforces that even if engaged in political speech, there is a line attorneys cannot cross”.
Wednesday’s agreement found that “through her conduct, [Ellis] undermined the American public’s confidence in the presidential election, violating her duty of candor to the public”.
She “had a selfish motive” and had “engaged in a pattern of misconduct”, it also stated.
For her part, Ellis called the censure “politically motivated”. “They ultimately failed to destroy me and failed in their attempt to deprive me of my bar license,” she tweeted on Thursday.
Ellis’s attorney Michael Melito also said that his client “remains a practicing attorney in good standing in the State of Colorado”. “In a very heated political climate, we secured that correct outcome,” he added.
Ellis is the latest Trump lawyer to face a penalty for spreading misinformation in the wake of the 2020 vote, a campaign that many observers say fuelled the January 6, 2021 storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters seeking to overturn the election results.
Nine lawyers in Michigan in 2021 were ordered to pay $175,000 in sanctions for a sham lawsuit seeking to overturn the election in that swing state.
Meanwhile, the District of Columbia’s bar association disciplinary counsel in December called for Trump ally and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to have his law licence suspended for pursuing a baseless lawsuit challenging Biden’s win in Pennsylvania.
On Thursday, The 65 Project, an ethics group that filed the bar complaint against Ellis and other lawyers who spread election misinformation, criticised how long the process of censure took.
“And frankly, while it is a strong rebuke, a public censure is not a particularly satisfying outcome considering the direct line between Ms Ellis’s deliberate actions and the attack on our nation’s Capitol on January 6th,” the organisation wrote on Twitter.
The courts are a key part of election-deniers' strategy to undermine democracy. We will not stop until all Big Lie Lawyers are held to account in both the court of public opinion and with the full weight of the grievance processes. /6
— The 65 Project (@The65Project) March 9, 2023