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Larry Klayman pioneered the slash-and-burn legal tactics that have become an endemic feature of American politics. Now, he faces the prospect of his own professional demise.
To hear conservative gadfly and attorney Larry Klayman tell it, the end of his legal career haranguing the Washington political establishment could be nigh.
For two contentious days this week, the Judicial Watch founder battled bar ethics charges of “dishonesty, deceit and misrepresentation” over his aggressive drive to join the defense team for Cliven Bundy in a criminal case stemming from the Nevada rancher’s armed standoff with federal authorities in 2014.
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The prosecutor in the Bundy-related ethics case, Julia Porter of the D.C. Bar Office of Disciplinary Counsel, initially pressed for Klayman to be disbarred outright, but later pulled back to a recommendation to suspend him for a year and require him to prove his fitness to return to legal practice.
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“She says just a year, a reinstatement provision. I’m 69 years old. You know how long a reinstatement provision takes?” Klayman said. “If the sanction that Ms. Porter is recommending goes into effect, I’ll probably never practice law again.”
The hearing — conducted via Zoom and streamed on the internet over about five-and-a-half hours Monday and Tuesday — was replete with vintage Klayman moments that highlight the no-holds-barred approach that has landed him in the trouble he currently faces.
“This a character assassination. Just say it, Ms. Porter,” Klayman exclaimed. “This is about the way I practice law. She doesn’t like my ideology. She doesn’t like what I do.”
“She’s out for blood. She does not like me,” he declared.
“If you have an objection, you can state that,” Porter lashed back. “It’s not a time for you to give speeches.”
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Officially, this week’s hearing was not about the substance of the accusation that Klayman bent the truth in his quest to join the Bundy case. Rather, the session was an opportunity for each side to present aggravating and mitigating evidence as the panel mulls what discipline to recommend.
For Klayman, that meant showcasing witnesses who would testify to his character. The result was a cavalcade of right-wing personalities, including two former presidential candidates: ex-Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) and former Ambassador Alan Keyes.
Also singing Klayman’s praises were conservative talk show host Armstrong Williams, author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi and no fewer than four members of the Bundy family, two of whom appeared to be testifying while sitting in farm equipment.
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“I’ve told people that if I had won, you would have been my choice for attorney general,” Keyes told Klayman during the hearing, beaming in on Zoom from the anchor desk at a television studio.
“You and I have never had an issue when it comes to character, integrity and your honoring your word,” said Williams, who spoke sitting in front of a T-shirt from Dr. Ben Carson’s 2016 presidential campaign. “That I can absolutely say is true, yes. You always honor your word—even as a lawyer, yes.”
“Steadman Graham, you actually were partners with him, that was Oprah’s boyfriend for a while, right?” Klayman asked Williams.
“Yeah….I don’t know why it’s relevant, but it’s true,” Williams said, prompting a visible eye roll and chuckle from the lawyer overseeing the hearing, Buffy Mims.
Klayman also called Dallas police sergeant and GOP congressional candidate Tre Pennie as a character witness. He represented Pennie in an unsuccessful suit that sought to tie shootings of police officers to rhetoric from Black Lives Matter, President Barack Obama, Sen. Hillary Clinton and others.
“How do we refer to each other?” Klayman asked.
“As brothers,” replied Pennie.
At another point, Klayman called the panel’s attention to a recent success: a ruling he won in Manhattan federal court earlier this year allowing former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore (R-Ala.) to proceed to discovery in a defamation suit against comedian and filmmaker Sacha Baron Cohen.
“An Obama-appointed, African-American judge allowed the case to go forward, a very fair man, Andrew Carter. A very fine judge,” Klayman told the committee.
Klayman never directly explained the relevance of the judge’s race or of Pennie’s, but two of the three members of the bar committee hearing the ethics case are African American and the online biography of the panel’s chairwoman, Mims, prominently describes her as the co-chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee at her law firm.
Klayman’s effort to demonstrate his exemplary character took other unusual turns, as he read from jacket blurbs from his own books and from articles written by his supporters. As always, there was no understatement.
“There were other men like Larry early in American history. Their names were Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Henry,” conservative editor Joseph Farah wrote in a 2004 article Klayman read to the ethics panel Tuesday. “They don’t make ‘em like that any more.”
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Ronald Rotunda, the late, widely respected legal ethics authority, wrote a detailed letter defending Klayman and testified on his behalf in one case alleging conflicts-of-interest. Rotunda, who served as Democratic counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee during Watergate and later as an ethics adviser to Whitewater Special Counsel Kenneth Starr, died in 2018.
U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth also took the highly unusual step of testifying on Klayman’s behalf at a 2016 bar hearing. During this week’s hearing, Klayman entered into evidence a 2018 letter the Reagan-appointed judge wrote on Klayman’s behalf supporting his efforts to gain temporary bar admission in a Texas federal court.
“He has had a number of cases before me over my 30 years as a judge, almost from the beginning. Many were quite controversial as well as newsworthy, and some extended for length periods of discovery and motions,” Lamberth wrote. “There is no question that Mr. Klayman is a zealous advocate for his client and his cause, but I also have no question regarding his fitness to practice law.”
A leading liberal constitutional law expert, University of California at Berkeley law dean Erwin Chemerinsky also testified on Klayman’s behalf earlier in the ethics case stemming from the Bundy prosecution. The esteemed law professor concluded there was no ethical violation by Klayman in the Bundy case, Klayman told the panel. (Chemerinsky confirmed to POLITICO Tuesday that he testified for Klayman, but the professor said he could not recall the details.)