Fifteen law professors from across the country, including two from the Georgetown University Law Center, signed a letter sent to the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals’ Office of Disciplinary Counsel Feb. 20 to file a professional misconduct complaint against Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump.
The law professors cite multiple incidents in which Conway’s public actions have suggested “an inability to fulfill the professional role of lawyers.” These incidents include appearances on network television news shows citing a fictitious terrorist attack in Bowling Green, Ky., claims of supposed immigration bans the Obama administration implemented and her endorsement of Ivanka Trump’s fashion line in interviews with members of the press.
The letter argues that Conway, who graduated from The George Washington University Law School in 1992 and was admitted to the D.C. Bar Association in 1995, violated the association’s rule that lawyers not engage in any public activity of “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.”
Conway is currently suspended from the association for nonpayment of dues.
Law Center professor Abbe Smith, who signed the letter and whose stationary the letter was sent, said although the rule is interpreted broadly, lawyers should work to maintain professional standards.
“We believe in the integrity of the legal profession,” Smith said. “That, coupled with repeated, clearly intentional falsehoods by high-ranking members of the administration who are lawyers, got us to thinking that there are rules that every member of the legal profession must comply with, and they apply to public office holders as well.”
William Montross, a visiting professor at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law who signed the letter, wrote in an email to The Hoya that the immediate goal of the letter is to request that the District Bar Association conduct an investigation and, depending on its findings, sanction Conway.
“In the face of mendacity and falsehood by lawyers, there is legal recourse. When a public official lies, the opportunity to address that lie rests in a contested election that may not be held for years,” Montross wrote. “But when a lawyer lies, immediate redress is possible because the profession views truth as a principal value.”
Smith said the signees also wanted to inspire other lawyers and law professors to hold lawyers who have membership in bar associations, including those in the Trump administration, accountable to the profession’s ethical standards.
“The current administration has lawyers who hold positions of authority,” Smith said. “There is a handful of lawyers, there aren’t that many, but there is a handful, and we’re hoping that now they’ll be a little more responsible and a little more mindful of the responsibilities of the legal profession. So, maybe it’ll be contagious.”
Montross said that as a professor, it is especially important to outline Conway’s errors as a signal to students entering the law profession.
“We spend so much time and so much effort — as law professors — teaching people entering this profession that there are serious ethical and professional responsibilities in our field,” Montross wrote. “It is shameful when a member of the bar repeatedly stands before the national media and openly misrepresents. So the impetus for my participation in this letter was simple: When you are a lawyer, the truth matters; if the truth does not matter to you, don’t be a lawyer.”
Montross said the role of professors is to model behavior for future lawyers and part of this job entails checking other members of the profession.
“Professors and academics model appropriate behavior to those whom we teach,” Montrose wrote. “It would be odd, to say the least, for law professors to repeatedly preach ethics and responsibilities to our students and, yet, do nothing when one of our colleagues in the bar violates the most basic of professional responsibilities.”
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