Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Russia scandal and false statements to Congress could lead to discipline for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, possibly putting Alabama State Bar in the spotlight

Victoria Vuletich
(From cooley.edu)
The Russia scandal engulfing the Donald Trump administration could put Attorney General Jeff Sessions' law license in jeopardy and provide possible grounds for his removal from office, according to a Michigan law professor.

Victoria V. Vuletich, professor at Western Michigan University's Cooley Law School, said Sessions' statements to Congress, failing to disclose his communications with a Russian ambassador, could make him subject to bar discipline. That means the Alabama State Bar could play a central role in a scandal that threatens to bring Sessions' political life to an ignominious close.

The Alabama State Bar is known for its rightward political leanings and lack of strong ethical underpinnings. We have seen evidence, though, that the bar will suspend a lawyer for making false statements under oath. Would the organization impose discipline on perhaps its most prominent member? We have doubts, but Vuletich says the bar could wind up with an obligation to examine Sessions' statements to the U.S. Senate during his confirmation hearings. Says Vuletich:

As a licensed attorney, Attorney General Sessions must adhere to Alabama Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(c), which states that it is professional misconduct for an attorney to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. Failing to disclose material information can be deemed fraudulent and dishonest if the statement would lead the listener to a different conclusion than if the information had been disclosed. If a complaint is filed with the Alabama legal disciplinary agency, it is likely that Attorney General Sessions would be subject to, at minimum, a pubic reprimand and possibly suspension of his license to practice law. It would be highly inappropriate to have a sitting Attorney General be the subject of professional discipline.

Could Sessions serve as attorney general without a law license? We have not been able to find a clear-cut answer to that question, but it appears the answer is yes. Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon had their law licenses removed and remained as president. Members of the U.S. Supreme Court are not required to be lawyers. We suspect Sessions could remain as AG, even without a law license. But how bad would it look?

Attorney Bill Swatek, who has family
ties to Jeff Sessions
Vuletich suggests she would find such an outcome deeply troubling -- and she is not a lightweight on such matters. From her bio:

She is a frequent presenter on legal ethics issues. Professor Vuletich is former chairperson of the American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Professional Responsibility Continuing Legal Education Committee. She was a member of the ABA Standing Committee on Client Protection 2004-2008. She is a member of the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility Policy Implementation Committee.

Most recently, Professor Vuletich was a guest lecturer at Hertford College, Oxford University, United Kingdom.

As for the Alabama State Bar's history of imposing discipline on a lawyer for making false statements under oath, we are most familiar with a case from the early 1980s involving Shelby County attorney William E. Swatek. Here's how we described issues in the Swatek case:

In the late 1970s, Swatek represented a Pelham policeman named Johnny Bailey in an employment case. During depositions, Swatek allowed opposing counsel to use his office for what they thought was a private meeting. But Swatek surreptitiously tape recorded them. The opposing attorneys found the running tape recorder and confronted Swatek with it. He eventually told multiple bar committees that he knew nothing about the recorder, it had been his client's idea to use it. Swatek was charged with perjury, and somehow was acquitted at trial, even though the following section from the audiotape was presented to the jury:

William E. Swatek and Johnny Bailey on cassette tape taken by Paul G. Smith from Swatek's office on May 30, 1979:

Swatek: "Testing . . . one . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five . . . "

Bailey: ". . . 'cause that's the one probably to use, or do you want to use that one?"

Swatek: "I'd rather use this one, 'cause you can't hear it at all, and I can stick it down under the desk and . . . "

Swatek obviously knew about the tape recording. He decided which recorder to use, where to place it, and he tested it. He clearly lied under oath to the bar committees about it. But still a jury -- which almost had to somehow be tainted--found him not guilty.

Swatek, in a criminal case that had to be fixed, was found not guilty of perjury. But the Alabama State Bar did suspend his license for acts of "dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation." -- one of at least three times the bar has publicly disciplined Swatek. You will note the "dishonesty, fraud . . . " language is the same provision Prof. Vuletich cites from Sec. 8.4(c).

How is this for irony? Swatek's son, Dax Swatek, is a GOP operative who has worked for . . . Jeff Sessions, among others. And Bill Swatek, more than any other "human," has caused the legal agony my wife, Carol, and I have suffered for roughly 17 years -- mainly by unethically representing Mike McGarity, our criminally inclined neighbor in Birmingham.

Maybe karma will bring down Sessions, along with some of the Alabama dirt bags who have ridden his coat tails.

Below are two videos about Bill Swatek's disciplinary history:


Anonymous said...

An AG without a bar card? Jeepers, I hadn't thought of that one.

Anonymous said...

Hah, the Alabama State Bar getting national attention? I bet that would make some sphincters tight.

Anonymous said...

Who would file the bar complaint on this? Maybe Al Franken?

legalschnauzer said...

Great question, @1:22, and I don't know. But I like the idea of Franken filing it. His notoriety would make it almost impossible for Alabama State Bar to ignore it, which I'm sure they would like to do.

Thoughts from others? Who should file a bar complaint against Jeff Sessions?

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you are bringing back those Swatek videos from yesteryear, Schnauzer. As a liberal, you clearly believe in recycling. What year were those videos shot? Do you still look "crazy after all these years."

legalschnauzer said...

@1:35 --

They were shot in 2008, at Oak Mountain State Park, right down the road from where we lived until our house was swiped out from under us by Alabama GOP thugs. For the record, I'm no longer big on recycling. I figure, "If the country is stupid enough to 'elect' Donald Trump, why bother recycling?" He's doing his best to soil our rivers and streams, so recycling's not much of an issue. As for your other question, do you mean, "Am I still that stunningly handsome?" And the answer is, "Why yes, of course."

Anonymous said...

National press needs to pick up on this. Could be an important angle to story.

Anonymous said...

Can't you imagine reporters from WaPo, NYT, CNN calling the Alabama State Bar and asking tough questions about Sessions? What a hoot that would be.

Anonymous said...

How about a bar complaint filed by Don Siegelman?

Better yet, if there was some way Michele Obama had standing to file a bar complaint against Sessions, then splodey heads would be assploding fer shur!