Judicial Notice (10.21.23): Et Tu, Sidney?
Trump attorneys cut plea deals, Davis Polk rescinds offers, Yale Law hires a conservative, and other legal news from the week that was.
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How many states have you visited? I’m at 40, having just returned from speaking at a conference in Arkansas. The states still on my bucket list are Alabama, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Dakota—so if you live in one of those states and would like to invite me to speak, please drop me a line. Now that we have two young kids at home, I can’t travel as much as I used to, but I do prioritize invitations that let me visit places I’ve never been.
Of course, thanks to modern technology, I can do all sorts of cool things from the comfort of my own home. Most recently, my co-host Zach Sandberg and I had the pleasure of interviewing leading litigator Camille Vasquez of Brown Rudnick, famous for successfully representing Johnny Depp in Depp v. Heard, for our Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers podcast. As Vasquez told us, her path to prominence wasn’t an easy one, which makes her story all the more remarkable and inspiring.
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Now, on to the news.
Lawyers of the Week: Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro.
The most talked-about lawyers this week were Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro, who played prominent roles in former president Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. And now they’re paying the price: ahead of criminal trials scheduled to start tomorrow in Fulton County, Georgia, they both cut deals with state prosecutors and pleaded guilty.
Powell pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to interfere with the performance of election duties, while Chesebro pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy. Both were sentenced to probation, avoiding the prison sentences they could have received had they been convicted at trial. Both must pay a few thousand dollars in restitution, write letters of apology to the state of Georgia, and testify truthfully against the remaining co-defendants—including Trump.
What to make of all this? From a reader who has for years worked at the intersection of law and politics, including stints in the White House and on Capitol Hill:
Maybe you can put into words how reprehensible it is for two lawyers to take on a delusional client, provide him with the world’s worst legal advice, break the law in implementing that advice, and then plead out and agree to testify against the client. Has this even happened previously, other than Michael Cohen?
I don’t know what it means for attorney-client privilege, but I do think monuments should be built to these two as the most shameful lawyers ever to hold a license to practice. Plus, it seems to put the burden on the client to know when the legal advice he’s getting may lead to an ex-post determination that it involved criminal conduct.
Okay, that might be a bit much. ”Most shameful lawyers ever” has plenty of competition, and it could be argued that their client got the lawyers he deserved. But it’s true that Powell’s and Chesebro’s deals don’t put lawyers in the best light.
Sometimes all you can do is laugh, as various late-night hosts did—like Ronny Chieng of The Daily Show, who professed a kind of perverse admiration for Powell:
Just a letter? This woman actively tried to steal an election. The least she could do is apologize door to door like a sex offender….
Sidney Powell sounds like a pretty great lawyer, to be honest. She got treason down to an apology letter. That’s an amazing negotiation. Is she still practicing? Because I might want to hire her.
If you want to retain Powell, act fast: after her guilty pleas, she might finally get disbarred.
Speaking of Trump lawyers who might lose their law licenses, John Eastman’s disciplinary trial in California continues—and a prominent retired judge testified on his behalf. Former D.C. Circuit judge Janice Rogers Brown appeared as a character witness for Eastman, testifying that he makes “interesting, well-researched, well-supported” arguments, and she can’t imagine he’d get in trouble again: “This is someone who has dedicated his entire professional life to the preservation of the constitutional order.” Well, except for that whole January 6 thing.
Speaking of Judge Brown and recidivism, I’m saddened to report that one of her former clerks, Professor Shon Hopwood of Georgetown Law, stands accused of domestic violence by his wife, fellow lawyer Ann Marie Hopwood. It’s sad because until these latest events, the Hopwoods’ story was a touching and inspiring one.
Shon Hopwood committed a series of bank robberies in his twenties and served 11 years in federal prison. While incarcerated, he became a successful “jailhouse lawyer,” getting the U.S. Supreme Court to grant two certiorari petitions—which is two more than 99.9 percent of American lawyers get granted. After his release, he obtained a law degree, became a licensed lawyer, completed a coveted clerkship with Judge Brown, and joined the faculty of Georgetown Law—a remarkable rehabilitation story.
Also while in prison, Shon reconnected with Ann Marie, whom he knew from high school. She provided him with emotional support during his long incarceration, and after he was released, they got married. They went on to have two children and to launch their own litigation boutique, Hopwood & Singhal.
I wrote about Shon several times back when I was at Above the Law, and I spent some time hanging out with him and Ann Marie. They seemed so happy together. But that was more than a decade ago, we haven’t stayed in touch, and it’s hard to know what’s truly going on inside a marriage. All I can say is that I find these allegations deeply disturbing and depressing, and I’m thinking of and praying for the Hopwood family.
Judge of the Week: Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
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