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John Eastman bar ruling shows an accountability tool for lawyers after Jan. 6

The MAGA lawyer isn’t going to criminal trial anytime soon, but a California judge has recommended that he lose his law license.

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The criminal cases against Donald Trump and his co-defendants over their efforts to subvert the 2020 presidential election haven’t gone to trial yet. And it’s unclear when they will. But on Wednesday, we were reminded of another form of legal accountability for Jan. 6, in John Eastman’s California state bar proceeding.

Though we’re understandably more focused on the criminal arena, the potential disbarment of the MAGA lawyer shows, perhaps, an underappreciated accountability measure.

The California ruling, which is subject to appeal, recommended disbarment for Eastman. The 128-page decision said, among other things, that the evidence “clearly and convincingly proves that Eastman and President Trump entered into an agreement to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress by unlawfully having Vice President Pence reject or delay the counting of electoral votes on January 6, 2021.”

Eastman, of course, is a Trump co-defendant in the election-related case in Georgia and an unindicted (and unnamed) alleged co-conspirator in the federal election interference case. So he’s still in criminal danger. (Eastman has pleaded not guilty in Georgia and maintained Wednesday night that his legal representations after the 2020 election were proper.)

But potentially stripping away the tool used by Eastman and others — a law license — to allegedly subvert the law for antidemocratic means is more than a symbolic gesture. It’s a direct rebuke.

But potentially stripping away the tool used by Eastman and others — a law license — to allegedly subvert the law for antidemocratic means is more than a symbolic gesture. It’s a direct rebuke. And for lawyers generally, it means stripping away their professional identity — and, for some, their identity itself.

It’s worth emphasizing, then, that some of the other lawyers charged in the Georgia case — Kenneth Chesebro, Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis — got no-jail plea deals designed to help them keep their law licenses. That’s because Fulton County prosecutors agreed in the deals that those defendants’ confessed crimes weren’t ones of “moral turpitude,” which can lead to bar discipline. The Eastman bar ruling, however, cited “the gravity of Eastman’s misconduct involving multiple acts of moral turpitude.”

The Eastman news comes as bar proceedings in Washington continue against Jeffrey Clark, another lawyer charged in Georgia who’s also an unindicted alleged co-conspirator in the D.C. case. (Clark has pleaded not guilty in Georgia.)

With the fate of these prosecutions uncertain, it’s worth appreciating these bar proceedings, which don’t threaten imprisonment but nonetheless strike at the heart of the matter.

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