Professor Eastman’s Last Class

He must have been respected as an academic enough to have reached the position of dean of Chapman Law School, so it’s not as if John Eastman, Republican though he may be, was left with few other career options. That said, he made a choice to torch the one thing he was that set him apart from the sort of guy who makes pillows. John Eastman was a lawyer.

Eastman “made multiple patently false and misleading statements in court filings, in public remarks heard by countless Americans,” Judge Yvette Roland wrote in her 128-page ruling. These statements were “improperly aimed at casting doubt on the legitimate election results and support for the baseless claim that the presidency was stolen from his client — all while relying on his credentials as an attorney and constitutional scholar to lend credibility to his unfounded claims.”

The last part, about relying on his cred as attorney and constitutional scholar, is what distinguishes Eastman from myriad others. It’s one thing to lie. It’s another to lie to a court. It’s yet another to wear the mantle of a constitutional scholar while lying to a court. Eastman was hardly the first lawyer to lie. Pathetically, it happens with unfortunate regularity, often used by prosecutors who believe they are on the side of justice, which somehow makes their lies tools in furtherance of justice. It doesn’t, but they can wrap themselves in the warm comfort of their cause.

Nor was John Eastman the first “constitutional scholar” to use his ascribed credibility to push a claim that was patently false. Whether it’s Larry Tribe or Alan Dershowitz, it seems to be de rigor for Harvard prawfs to spew garbage for the cause, whether on social media or their respective favorite cable TV shows.

But Eastman put it all together by being the lawyer and constitutional scholar that empowered the scheme to pursue the Big Lie.

Given the seriousness of this misconduct and Eastman’s refusal to express any remorse, Roland was more than justified in ruling that “the most severe available professional sanction is warranted to protect the public and preserve the public confidence in the legal system.”

As a lawyer who has had many opportunities to benefit my clients if only I would lie for them,  often for a very good pay day if only I was willing to do the dirty, this is grossly inadequate. His conduct crossed the line of disbarment and went a thousand miles farther.

It’s hard to explain to non-lawyers why lawyers, who regularly find themselves in positions to lie, cheat and steal, make the affirmative choice not to engage in impropriety. We tell the truth even when the truth hurts our position and our client. We don’t take money even when we could easily get away with stealing clients blind.

We put in our best work even when clients wouldn’t have a clue whether our work was competent or crap. We take our ethical duties with the utmost seriousness, not necessarily because of any client, but because that’s who we are. We are lawyers. We fight with zeal for our clients, but we never, but never, cross the line. Because we are lawyers and that’s what our duty demands.

But the news of Eastman’s comeuppance should satisfy anyone who cares about truth, justice and the rule of law. It’s not enough, surely: Eastman should be disbarred from every jurisdiction where he still holds a law license, and he has been criminally charged in the Georgia racketeering case, although that is not getting to trial anytime soon. For now, at least, it’s good to see even one of the bad guys pay a price.

Unlike Jesse Wegman, I take no joy or comfort from John Eastman’s disbarment. I can appreciate that his focus is on “the bad guys paying a price,” while mine is on a member of my profession, his cred amped up by his purported scholarliness, caring nothing about the what I see as a sacred duty not to abuse the privilege I hold as a lawyer to be entitled to hold other people’s lives and fortunes in my hands, to have my word accepted as true for no better reason than I said so and I would not lie, to be trusted even though I could get away with it and no one would ever know.

Am I just a dinosaur, an archaic relic of a once honorable profession? It’s a very serious concern that the notion of honor has become a dank meme to many lawyers, who believe they are serving some higher moral calling by ignoring their ethical responsibilities in the name of some higher moral calling that must be achieved “by any means necessary.”

As for parlaying scholarly credibility for the cause, the legal academy is replete with charlatans who use their chairs to push absurd and frivolous legal theories and positions in furtherance of their politics and ideological outcomes. Still, the attribution of law professor imbues them with a level of significance to the public that makes their cockamamie commentary look serious to the unduly passionate and unwashed. The TV shows love them, as they need only point to their professorship to prove the worth of their spewing. Nobody wants to hear from just another trench lawyer, no matter how much experience he may have doing what these prawfs only see from 35,000 feet.

But at least I take comfort in knowing that when no one is looking, I will still adhere to my ethical duties because that’s how I roll. As for John Eastman, disbarment hardly makes the cut. He should be paraded through the streets naked so the citizenry can see what a constitutional scholar looks like in all his “glory.” That he was ever entitled to be part of my profession disgusts me, and even if he’s now more the norm than I am, I will still be ethical and he will not.

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