Election Law

Lawyer for Trump campaign complains of 'abusive' voicemail from Kirkland associate, asks to withdraw

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A lawyer representing the Trump campaign in a federal election case in Pennsylvania asked to withdraw from the representation Monday, a day after she sought sanctions against Kirkland & Ellis for an associate's “abusive” voicemail message.

Philadelphia solo practitioner Linda Kerns sought to withdraw from the litigation, as did co-counsel John Scott and Douglas Bryan Hughes. Their motion said the lawyers had reached a mutual agreement that the plaintiffs will be best served by the withdrawal.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann of the Middle District of Pennsylvania allowed Scott and Hughes to withdraw in a Nov. 16 order but did not make a decision on Kerns.

Lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who is now coordinating the election litigation for President Donald Trump, is seeking pro hac vice admission to appear in the Pennsylvania case. Kerns’ withdrawal motion had also indicated that lawyer Marc Scaringi will represent the campaign in the case.

Scaringi was recently in the news for challenging COVID-19 restrictions in Pennsylvania, Law360 reports. Also covering the withdrawal and sanctions motions are Law.com, Bloomberg Law, Above the Law and Law360 in a separate story.

Kirkland & Ellis is outside counsel for Pennsylvania’s secretary of state in the litigation. The associate accused of leaving the abusive voicemail is not involved in the litigation and was not aware of the firm’s role, the law firm told the court.

Kerns said in her show-cause motion Sunday that since the case was filed, she had been “subjected to continuous harassment in the form of abusive emails, phone calls, physical and economic threats and even accusations of treason—all for representing the president of the United States’ campaign in this litigation.”

“It is one thing for members of the public to break the laws of decorum, or even laws of Pennsylvania or the United States, by engaging in such harassment,” Kerns wrote. “This court’s role is not to protect counsel from such attacks. But it is another thing for a lawyer in the Washington, D.C., office of Kirkland & Ellis, Secretary Boockvar’s outside counsel, to do so. And yet that is what happened.”

Kerns said the voicemail lasted a minute, and it “falls afoul of standards of professional conduct” by any measure. The motion did not include a transcript.

Kirkland & Ellis’ response acknowledged that the voicemail was “discourteous and not appropriate” but said the firm disagrees “with the characterization of the voicemail in the motion.” The law firm said the sanctions motion should be denied.

Kerns’ request to withdraw followed a decision to withdraw by another law firm representing the campaign, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur. Law firms representing the Trump campaign have been subjected to criticism, even from lawyers within their ranks, the New York Times previously reported.

An amended complaint filed in the Pennsylvania federal case Sunday dropped constitutional due process, equal protection and elections clause claims stemming from an alleged lack of access by poll watchers in Pennsylvania. The amended suit instead focuses on a claim that voters should not have been allowed to fix errors on mail-in ballots in Democratic counties.

The Trump campaign told the Washington Post late Sunday that the lawsuit still included allegations about a lack of meaningful observer access.

“We are still making the strong argument that 682,479 ballots were counted in secret,” the campaign said in a statement.

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