The Foley & Lardner partner who left the firm after participating in President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn Georgia’s presidential election results says she’s the victim of “a massive pressure campaign” mounted by “leftist groups.”
“With the ever more brazen attacks on conservatives and, most especially, anyone who supports and wants to help President Trump, I realize that a large national law firm is no longer the right platform for me or my law practice,” Mitchell, 70, wrote in a memo to friends and clients that she confirmed to Bloomberg Law.
The firm announced Mitchell’s resignation on Tuesday. Mitchell’s memo said it was in “both of our interests” that she leave, amid what she described as an “ongoing campaign of hateful, vile, and offensive attacks.”
“I thank the Firm for its support of my political law practice all these years despite ongoing assaults through the years against me, my clients and my work,” Mitchell wrote.
Mitchell, who’d been at Foley & Lardner for nearly 20 years, said election integrity and “getting to the truth” about Georgia’s vote remains her goal, noting she would “redouble her efforts” at pursuing voter fraud after leaving the firm. Officials from Georgia’s secretary of state’s office have said the election was fair and that President-elect Joe Biden won.
Mitchell’s departure was sparked by her participation in Trump’s call to Georgia’s Brad Raffensperger pressing him to “find” votes to change the state’s election outcome. Foley & Lardner said it issued a policy in November barring its lawyers from representing any party on presidential election challenges.
She asked about election-fraud theories that Raffensperger and his general counsel told her were investigated and found untrue.
Her participation in the call prompted public criticism of Foley & Lardner, including an appeal on Twitter by The Lincoln Project, a group formed by conservative lawyers who oppose Trump, to contact the firm.
Mitchell’s memo made clear she had “personal involvement” with Trump, his campaign, and the White House regarding Georgia’s presidential election. Her memo did not mention the firm’s policy decision.
Mitchell’s representation of a group opposing same-sex marriage caused trouble for the firm in 2011, when the Human Rights Campaign said her work as a registered lobbyist went beyond “simple legal representation of an unpopular client.”
At the time, her firm defended her work and the principle that lawyers advocate for unpopular clients and unpopular opinions.
“The notion that a client’s views and interests may be attributed to its law firm is antithetical to the fundamental precepts of the American system of justice and is a notion that we soundly reject,” a firm spokeswoman said at the time, according to a story published by The American Lawyer.
Mitchell isn’t the only lawyer at a major firm to get involved in big ticket election battles.
“Firms make policy decisions about what they’re willing to do and what they’re not willing to do,” said James Jones, a fellow at the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center. “It’s a question of line drawing.”
Longtime GOP elections lawyer Ben Ginsberg, who represented the George W. Bush campaign in the 2000 Florida recount, was a partner at Jones Day before retiring earlier this year. Marc Elias, a partner at Perkins Coie, is a well-known election litigator on the Democrat side who served as general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and led a special litigation group for President-elect Joe Biden.
Mitchell’s departure follows swirling public criticism of Jones Day and Porter Wright for their work on Trump-related legal challenges surrounding the November election. Porter Wright swiftly backed out of those cases, but Jones Day continued to represent the Pennsylvania Republican Party in an unsuccessful challenge to state voting law changes.
The Jones Day criticism was “misplaced,” New York University legal ethics professor Stephen Gillers said, because the firm’s lawyers had a solid legal and factual basis for pursuing that lawsuit. But those who have helped Trump and his allies in a slew of other “frivolous” challenges roundly rejected by courts are walking a fine ethical line, he said.
“It’s not a right-left question,” Gillers said. “It’s ‘are you representing your client on a position that has some factual and legal traction?’ In many of the Trump challenges and on that phone call with the Georgia officials, the answer was ‘no.’”
Mitchell’s situation is also different because she appears to have violated Foley’s ban on attorneys providing legal advice related to the election, Georgetown’s Jones said. Firms make those kinds of policy calls for various reasons, including to keep clients and prospective clients happy, retain and attract lawyers, and maintain their reputations and brands, he said.
“If you have a lawyer go out and say, ‘I’m going to do this on my own anyway,’ that’s not going to work,” Jones said. “One way or another, you’re violating your agreement with the firm.”