Larry Klayman, founder of the right-wing watchdog group Judicial Watch and, later, Freedom Watch, was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
The court said on Thursday that Klayman “flagrantly violated” an ethics rule forbidding changing sides in a matter, and that he acted “vindictively” toward his earlier organization.
The suspension takes effect 30 days from the court’s June 11 order, it said. The three-judge panel said it was accepting recommendations made by the district’s Board on Professional Responsibility.
Klayman has been involved in several lawsuits with Judicial Watch since leaving, including one where he sued it for defamation. But the D.C. court didn’t find “clear and convincing evidence” that his conduct seriously interfered with the administration of justice, in violation section 8.4(d) of the district’s rules of professional conduct, or that he lied to the disciplinary hearing committee.
Klayman told Bloomberg Law in an email Friday that he is still able to practice law in other states. He said he plans to file a petition for rehearing before the full court and can practice law in the District in the interim.
The misconduct arose from several unrelated lawsuits filed against Judicial Watch more than a decade ago, after Klayman left the group, according to the court. He was in-house counsel for Judicial Watch from 1994-2003, it said.
Without seeking the group’s consent, Klayman sought to represent the plaintiffs in those matters, which concerned events that happened during his tenure there.
Klayman said the parties he represented in suits against Judicial Watch included a donor who donated to buy the building that housed the organization Judicial Watch, which it never bought, a woman allegedly harassed in its Miami office, and a client he said was “abandoned” by Judicial Watch after he left.
“I represented them because they did not have the money to hire counsel and I believed at the time that I was doing the right thing,” Klayman said in the email.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel found this violated rule 1.9, which prohibits changing sides in a case, and the court agreed.
But the Disciplinary Counsel’s office also alleged that Klayman violated rule 8.4(d) in one of the matters. Judicial Watch had represented the client, under Klayman’s authorization, in a civil suit in 2001. When that man later sued Judicial Watch, Klayman represented him.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth who presided over that later lawsuit provided supportive testimony on Klayman’s behalf, the appeals court noted in finding no rule 8.4 violation. Lamberth had found the man was “a needy client who could not otherwise have afforded legal services,” the appellate panel said.
Agreeing with the Board on Professional Responsibility on that issue, the court said that no Rule 8.4(d) violation had been proven by clear and convincing evidence.
The judges also said they also agreed with the board that the switching of sides “strikes at the integrity of the legal profession,” and Klayman deserves a 90-day suspension for that. But it decided not to impose a fitness requirement before his reinstatement because it said it didn’t have “serious doubt” that he could practice ethically.
“We do, however, concur with Disciplinary Counsel’s original recommendation that Mr. Klayman be ordered to complete a continuing legal education (“CLE”) course on conflicts of interest,” it said.
The case is In re Klayman, 2020 BL 216158, D.C., No. 18-BG-0100, 6/11/20.