By Jim Mustian
An appeals court suspended Rudy Giuliani from practicing law in New York on Thursday because he made false statements while trying to get courts to overturn Donald Trump’s loss in the presidential race.
An attorney disciplinary committee had asked the court to suspend Giuliani’s license on the grounds that he'd violated professional conduct rules as he promoted theories that the election was stolen through fraud.
The court agreed and said suspension should be immediate, even though disciplinary proceedings aren't yet complete, because there was an “immediate threat” to the public.
“The seriousness of respondent’s uncontroverted misconduct cannot be overstated," the court wrote. "This country is being torn apart by continued attacks on the legitimacy of the 2020 election and of our current president, Joseph R. Biden.”
Trump called the suspension a politically motivated “witch hunt," while Giuliani said it was a “disgrace” on his afternoon radio show. The court's opinion, Giuliani said, was based on hearsay and “could have been written by the Democratic National Committee.”
“The bar association should give me an award,” the Republican told listeners on WABC-AM. “I defended an unpopular client. I’ve been threatened with death. I’ve had a good deal of my income taken away. I’ve lost friends over it.”
“This is happening to shut me up," he added. "They want Giuliani quiet.”
The ruling will prevent Giuliani from representing clients as a lawyer. The court held that Giuliani, as a lawyer for Trump, “communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large.”
Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and U.S. attorney in Manhattan, claimed the investigation violated his First Amendment right to free speech and that he did not knowingly make false statements.
The court rejected those arguments, noting that in Pennsylvania, Giuliani failed to “provide a scintilla of evidence for any of the varying and wildly inconsistent numbers of dead people he factually represented voted in Philadelphia during the 2020 presidential election.”
“False statements intended to foment a loss of confidence in our elections and resulting loss of confidence in government generally damage the proper functioning of a free society," the court wrote.
Interim suspensions are often a precursor to disbarment but are typically “reserved for lawyers convicted of a crime,” said Bruce Green, a former federal prosecutor who directs the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at the Fordham University School of Law. “It’s rarely done in cases involving lying lawyers.”
Still, Giuliani will be allowed to fight the suspension and even call witnesses as part of his challenge — a process that could take months to play out — and Giuliani's attorneys said they expect him to be reinstated “once the issues are fully explored at a hearing.”
“He gets another day in court,” Green said.
Giuliani was the primary mouthpiece for Trump’s false claims of election fraud after the 2020 vote, standing at a press conference in front of Four Seasons Total Landscaping outside Philadelphia on the day the race was called for Biden and saying they would challenge what he claimed was a vast conspiracy by Democrats.
Lies around the election results helped push an angry mob of pro-Trump rioters to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an effort to stop the certification of President Biden’s victory. Since that time, Republicans have used that lie to push stricter voting laws nationwide.
The suspension comes as Giuliani is under scrutiny by federal prosecutors over his interactions with figures in Ukraine while he was trying to get that country to launch an investigation of Biden’s son.
Federal agents raided Giuliani’s home and office in April, taking electronic devices including phones and computers.
The investigation includes an examination of whether Giuliani was required to register as a foreign agent in the U.S. Some of the Ukrainian figures Giuliani was worked with were also interested in getting his help lobbying the Trump administration.
Giuliani has said he is innocent of any wrongdoing and that the investigations are politically motivated.
Giuliani could also face consequences in Georgia, where he made statements to legislative committees casting doubt on the legitimacy of that state’s election that are cited in the New York court’s decision.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has opened a criminal investigation into potential attempts to influence the 2020 election in Georgia, including looking into “the making of false statements to state and local governmental bodies.”
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has come under attack from Trump and his allies for not taking steps to overturn the former president’s loss in the state, saw vindication in the New York court’s decision.
“The judges recognized that the baseless conspiracy theories Giuliani repeated were not true and punished him for spreading lies, particularly about Georgia’s election,” he said Thursday.
The suspension won’t affect Giuliani’s ability to act as a lobbyist or do security consulting, but will likely will prevent him from practicing law in jurisdictions even beyond New York, said David S. Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor.
Giuliani would be obligated to tell other states about the suspension, he said, which “in all likelihood will cause them to say, ‘You won’t be able to practice here.’”
This story has been updated to correct the attribution on the decision. It was made by the court, not the attorney disciplinary committee.
Associated Press writers Kate Brumback in Atlanta, Michael Hill in Albany, New York, and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.
Updated on June 24, 2021, at 4:33 p.m. ET with the latest details.