Marc Kasowitz (Rick Kopstein/NYLJ)
Marc Kasowitz, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, is facing two ethics complaints with the New York and Washington, D.C., bars over his reported advice to White House staffers.
Both complaints cite an article in The New York Times on Sunday reporting that Kasowitz advised White House staff that it was “not yet necessary” for the president’s aides to hire their own lawyers, amid investigations by Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller into whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
The ethics complaints contend Kasowitz, managing partner of Kasowitz Benson Torres, violated attorney ethics rules in New York and Washington by giving such advice to unrepresented individuals.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Kasowitz, said in statement that the ethics complaints are meritless, calling them “obviously politically motivated complaints based on press reports, which were based on anonymous sources.”
Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit government watchdog group formed in 2015, filed its ethics complaint with the Washington, D.C., Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Board on Professional Responsibility on Thursday.
Separately, Neal Goldfarb, senior attorney and litigator at corporate law firm Butzel Long, lodged a complaint Tuesday with the Appellate Division, First Department, disciplinary committee in New York.
Goldfarb, a former board member of the D.C. affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he filed the complaint in his individual capacity, not on behalf of his firm. He said he believed Kasowitz’s conduct was inappropriate and he wanted to hold him accountable.
In April Goldfarb filed an ethics complaint in Washington against White House counsel Donald McGahn and his deputies Michael Jay Ellis and John Eisenberg related to their disclosure of intelligence information to Rep. Devin Nunes.
The watchdog group behind Thursday’s complaint in Washington argues that Kasowitz appears to have run afoul of two ethics rules.
First, because he is not a member of the D.C. bar, the group says, “by offering aids the legal advice not to retain counsel, it appears Mr. Kasowitz engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.”
The group cites further ethics rules providing that a lawyer should not give advice to unrepresented people other than the advice to secure counsel if their interests are or could be in conflict with the lawyer’s client.
“White House staff members, aware of numerous congressional investigations as well as an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, may justifiably be concerned about whether they are in any legal jeopardy,” wrote Daniel Stevens, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability.
Stevens wrote it is in Trump’s interest that those staff members, who may be questioned as witnesses by the special counsel or a congressional committee, not retain their own counsel, as doing so would limit Kasowitz’s ability to talk to them.
“Given the exigencies of the situation, to protect the numerous staff members in the White House who may find themselves ensnared in the investigations and who may come to regret heeding Mr. Kasowitz’s advice, Campaign for Accountability requests that you immediately initiate an investigation into whether Mr. Kasowitz violated the Rules of Professional Conduct,” said the letter, which was also sent to the First Department Disciplinary Committee and to White House counsel McGahn.
Goldfarb’s letter to the New York disciplinary committee said New York ethics rules expressly treat advice on retaining personal counsel “as itself constituting legal advice.”
Kasowitz violated another New York ethics rule related to communications with people who are represented by counsel, Goldfarb’s complaint asserts. Goldfarb contends Kasowitz’s communications affected the “institutional interests of the White House,” represented by the White House Counsel’s Office.
“Mr. Kasowitz’s end run around the White House Counsel’s Office represented not only a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, but a serious departure from past White House practice,” Goldfarb wrote.
“The violations at issue here present a compelling case for investigation and disciplinary action,” he continued, arguing Kasowitz’s violations are of greater consequence than run-of-the-mill violations of the no-contact rules. “It is undeniable that confidence in the legal system will be eroded if the allegations against the president’s lawyer are not treated with the utmost seriousness.”
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