Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman is suspended for switching sides after leaving the group
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Updated: Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman has been suspended for 90 days and ordered to take a continuing legal education course on conflicts of interest.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals suspended Klayman in a June 11 opinion. The court cited three instances of alleged misconduct in which Klayman switched sides in Judicial Watch matters after leaving the conservative watchdog group, in which he was general counsel.
Klayman is frequently in the news. He filed a $20 trillion lawsuit in March against China that alleged that the novel coronavirus was a bioweapon that was recklessly or accidentally released.
He also represents former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in three lawsuits, AL.com reports. Two of the suits relate to Moore’s Senate campaign, and the third is a defamation suit against comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals cited these factual findings:
• While at Judicial Watch, Klayman provided legal advice to the organization when an employee complained that she was subject to a hostile work environment for several weeks in 2003. After Klayman and the woman both left Judicial Watch, the woman sued in Florida state court over the alleged hostile environment. After a trial court tossed the case, Klayman entered an appearance for the woman, filed a motion to vacate, and filed an appellate brief after the motion was denied.
• While employed at Judicial Watch, in 2002, Klayman solicited a donation as part of a campaign to raise funds to purchase a building for Judicial Watch. A woman paid $15,000 out of a $50,000 pledge. Judicial Watch did not buy a building. After Klayman left Judicial Watch, he and the donor sued Judicial Watch. The woman’s suit was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, and she refiled in Washington, D.C., superior court. Klayman entered an appearance as co-counsel for the donor. The parties eventually stipulated to dismissal of the case.
• While at Judicial Watch, in 2001, the group agreed to represent a person to evaluate legal issues stemming from his fundraising activities during an election campaign for the New York state Senate in 2000. Klayman drafted the representation agreement and a later modification. Judicial Watch withdrew from the representation after Klayman’s departure. The person later sued Judicial Watch for allegedly breaching the representation agreement, and Klayman entered an appearance on his behalf.
The federal judge presiding in the breach of representation litigation disqualified Klayman but said the plaintiff was a “a needy client who could not otherwise have afforded legal services,” and there was “a legitimate debate” about Klayman’s conduct.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals said the disciplinary counsel had proven that Klayman “flagrantly violated” the ethics rule on duties to former clients on three occasions.
“His misconduct was not isolated, and, it appears, he acted vindictively and ‘motivated by animus toward Judicial Watch’ (with which he had developed an acrimonious relationship),” the court said.
The court said it agreed that Klayman’s misconduct, which involved switching sides, was intentional, and it deserved “the serious sanction” of a 90-day suspension.
But the appeals court said it thought that Klayman can practice law ethically, and he won’t have to show fitness to practice law before being reinstated.
The suspension order takes effect 30 days after the June 11 opinion.
Klayman told the ABA Journal in an email that he plans to seek a rehearing.
“The order is not final, and I am petitioning for rehearing before the three-judge panel and en banc, if necessary,” Klayman said. “I have 14 and 30 days from the date of the order to do so.
“Thus, the three-month suspension is not currently in effect and will not affect my ongoing cases at this time.
“As the three-month suspension is relatively short, it will not affect my ongoing cases, if and when the order or a modified order becomes final.
“In any event, there was no showing of dishonesty, and I was only trying to protect a former client, my surrogate mother who had her donation misappropriated to buy a building to house Judicial Watch, but which 17 years later, it still has not bought despite raising $1.4 million, and a Miami office manager who was harassed by Judicial Watch after I left. I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.”
Klayman said he represented the donor, the office manager and the third person pro bono because they could not afford to retain counsel. He also emphasized that he switched sides with regard to Judicial Watch, not with regard to other clients.
Hat tip to Bloomberg Law.
Story updated at 9:55 p.m. to add additional comments by Klayman, to correct description in the third bullet point, and to change phrase in the second paragraph from “switched sides in matters” to “switched sides in Judicial Watch matters.”
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