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July 2, 2021

NY Appellate Court Suspends Rudolph Giuliani on Interim Basis From Practice of Law

The Appellate Division, First Department has issued a decision suspending Rudolph Giuliani from the practice of law for violations of several provisions of New York’s Rules of Professional Conduct (the rules) in his role as the lawyer for former President Donald Trump and the Trump campaign in their failed effort at reelection in 2020. Relying on “uncontroverted evidence” that he, “communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers, and the public,” the court found that Giuliani’s actions threatened the public interest and ordered an interim suspension, pending further proceedings before the Attorney Grievance Committee (committee).

The rules provide the outline for a lawyer’s duties as a member of the legal system and guidance on the ethical practice of law. Violation of the rules may lead to disciplinary action. During the investigation, the committee may move for an attorney’s interim suspension, which is only appropriate where uncontroverted claims of misconduct are evident and it is necessary to protect the public from the attorney’s violation of the rules. The committee citied to the following rules in support of its motion:

  • Rule 3.3: “(a) A lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal . . . .”
  • Rule 4.1: “In the course of representing a client, a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of fact or law to a third person.”
  • Rule 8.4: “A lawyer or law firm shall not: . . . (c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, . . . or (h) engage in any other conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness as a lawyer.”

The court rejected Giuliani’s various claims, including that the investigation violated his First Amendment rights of free speech and that he lacked knowledge, as he did not make the statements knowing they were false. In the lengthy decision, the court highlighted specific instances and false statements Giuliani made—which he did not deny—as evidence of his misconduct and violation of the rules listed above.1

Violation of the rules alone is not a sufficient basis for an interim suspension. The court must also find an immediate threat to public interest. Several factors are considered by the court in the determination, including whether the misconduct is continuing, the seriousness of the underlying offense, and the likelihood a significant sanction would be imposed upon the conclusion of the disciplinary proceedings. The court found that the committee offered detailed evidence to demonstrate the factors are in their favor.

The decision demonstrates that no one, including former President Trump’s attorney, is immune to the rules, and the committee takes its role very seriously in protecting the public interest. Attorneys should be aware of the distinction between zealously representing a client and continuously making false and misleading factual statements to support a claim. Further, practitioners should also be mindful of the regulation an attorney’s speech in light of their professional training and the perception by the public as trustworthy and just. 

If you have any questions regarding the content of this blog, please contact Amanda Miller, associate, at amiller@barclaydamon.com, or another member of the firm’s Professional Liability or Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Areas.

1 Examples included false and unsupported statements alleging “widespread nationwide voter fraud” made during radio and televised interviews, before state legislatures, and at various court appearances.

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