State bar seeks to strip law license of former Chapman dean, ex-Trump attorney John Eastman

State bar seeks to strip law license of former Chapman dean, ex-Trump attorney John Eastman

The State Bar of California is seeking to strip the law license of former Chapman University law school dean John Eastman, accusing him of coming up with a plan for Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and helping provoke the Jan. 6 crowd that breached the U.S. Capitol.

Eastman, who led Trump’s legal bid to remain in power following the 2020 election and was the architect behind what some have described as a criminal coup attempt, was under investigation for more than a year to determine if he violated the California law and ethics that guide attorneys in relation to the election.

The 11 allegations raised by the state bar include accusations that Eastman “engaged in a course of conduct to plan, promote and assist then-President Trump in executing a strategy, unsupported by the facts or law, to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 Presidential election by obstructing the count of electoral votes of certain states,” State Bar of California Chief Trial Counsel George Cardona announced Thursday.

The formal “Notice of Disciplinary Charges” also alleges that Eastman “made false and misleading statements regarding purported election fraud, include statements on Jan. 6, 2021, at a rally in Washington D.C., that contributed to provoking a crowd to assault and breach the Capitol to intimidate then-Vice-President Pence and prevent the electoral count from proceeding,” Cardona added.

Eastman referred to the state bar allegations as a “travesty of justice” in a response posted on Substack on Thursday afternoon. He described the complaint as being “filled with distortions, half truths, and outright falsehoods.”

Randall Miller, an attorney representing Eastman, said he disputes “every aspect” of the state bar action, alleging the complaint is part of a “nationwide effort to use the bar discipline process to penalize attorneys who opposed the current administration in the last Presidential election.”

“Any lawyer engaged to provide his or her legal assessment in a dynamic, consequential, and often emotional arena should be deeply troubled by the notion that a licensing authority can take their license if they do not like the lawyer’s advice or find the advocacy distasteful,” Miller said in a statement. “The foundation of any engagement is that the lawyer shall protect the client’s interest at every turn. This includes raising all viable options.”

Chapman University officials declined to comment on the state bar allegations, simply noting that Eastman “no longer works” at the university.

U.C. Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky — who debated Eastman on a weekly radio show for more than 15 years, serving as the progressive counterpoint to Eastman’s more conservative arguments — praised the state bar complaint.

“I think it is a very thorough complaint, focused especially on Eastman’s misleading courts and participating in an attempted coup,” Chemerinsky said. “It reflects the truly extraordinary situation of Eastman seeking to overturn an election.”

The state bar counsel directly referenced two “legal memos” drafted by Eastman that provided a road map to block Joe Biden from taking office by circumventing the established procedure for counting electoral votes in front of Congress. Pence, who as vice president was tasked with overseeing the process, ultimately rejected the proposal outlined by Eastman, noting in a written statement that “the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”

U.S. District Judge David Carter — a federal judge based in Santa Ana — wrote last year that Eastman and Trump “launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history.” Carter described their “campaign” as “a coup in search of a legal theory,” adding that the plan “spurred violent attacks on the seat of our nation’s government, led to the death of several law enforcement officers, and deepened public distrust in our political process.”

Eastman was referenced more than 500 times in the final report of the January 6th Committee, the House panel that investigated the Capitol Insurrection. The high-profile report depicted the violent events of Jan. 6, 2021 — when thousands of Trump supporters breached the Capitol in a failed attempt to halt the certification of Biden’s electoral victory — as the culmination of a months-long effort by Trump and his allies to remain in power despite losing the 2020 election. The committee recommended that both Trump and Eastman face criminal charges.

The state bar charges wouldn’t lead to anywhere near the potential repercussions of criminal charges, but officials made clear that they are intent on seeking Eastman’s disbarment.

“There is nothing more sacrosanct to our American democracy than free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power,” Cardona said in a statement. “For California attorneys, adherence to the U.S. and California Constitutions is their highest legal duty. The Notice of Disciplinary Charges alleges that Mr. Eastman violated this duty in furtherance of an attempt to usurp the will of the American people and overturn election results for the highest office in the land—an egregious and unprecedented attack on our democracy—for which he must be held accountable.”

Officials with the States United Democracy Center, which filed an ethics complaint against Eastman with the state bar in October 2021, said they applauded the possible disbarment.

“Accountability is one of the strongest tools we have to prevent another attack on our democracy like the January 6 attack,” Christine P. Sun, Senior Vice President of Legal at the States United Democracy Center said in a statement. “We encourage other state bars to follow the State Bar of California’s example and take similar steps against attorneys involved in the plot to overturn the 2020 election.”

Eastman’s supporters have described him as an attorney who was specifically hired to explore every possible legal scenario to challenge an election that Trump claimed was marred by widespread voter fraud. Election experts have said there is no evidence of voter fraud at the scale large enough to change the outcome of the national election.

Standing before a crowd of Trump supporters on Jan. 6, Eastman alleged voting fraud during the presidential election and demanded that Pence “let the legislatures of the states look into this so we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of government or not.” After the subsequent riot at the Capitol, court documents show that Eastman emailed Pence’s lawyer, writing “(T)he ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary. Pence should still not certify the result.”

Eastman later noted in a CNN interview that he was miles away from the Capitol when it was breached. In that interview, Eastman described what happened that day as a “travesty” and said everyone involved in breaching it “should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” but added that it “ought not apply to people peaceably expressing their views.”

Eastman’s professorship at Chapman had weathered other controversies — including his professing doubt about the validity of President Barack Obama’s birth documents and his questioning whether Kamala Harris was a “natural born citizen” — but his ties to Jan. 6 proved to be the last straw. More than 150 members of the Chapman University faculty and Board of Trustees publicly accused Eastman of creating a hostile work environment and demanded the university take action. He retired from the university in early 2021.

Staff writer Teri Sforza contributed to this report