On April 7, 2021, Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law hosted an event titled “Trial by Combat. A Conversation on the Professional, Ethical, and Moral Obligations of Lawyers.” The event was moderated by 2L student Noelia Wiegand and was attended by over 181 students, including Drexel students, faculty, deans, attorneys and legal professionals from UPenn and Yale amongst other universities.
The event featured professors Clare Coleman and Anil Kalhan, as well as Christine Chung. Chung was part of the group that drafted a letter to the New York Bar Association requesting that attorney Rudolph “Rudy” Giuliani be disbarred for his involvement in pushing false information regarding voting and voter fraud in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election.
With the main focus being on moral judgments, there was discussion as to how essential it is to have a moral core. The discussion then shifted focus to the ways in which someone is guided to make certain decisions; in Giuliani’s case, going from his leadership in a post-9/11 New York and being seen as America’s Mayor to leading the efforts to overturn the election and trying to prove there were instances of voter fraud.
“Our mission is to safeguard the rule of law and to mobilize lawyers to do that… It was a group of Harvard Law School Graduates who were at their 50th reunion three years ago and were very troubled by the direction the American government was going and the rule of law was going and made a pact at their reunion to form a non-profit, non-partisan group that would address rule of law issues,” Chung said during the event.
The group, known as Lawyers Defending American Democracy has issued numerous open letters regarding rule of law issues within the United States. The group had paid attention to Giuliani in real-time, taking note that his conduct was quickly spiraling through different phases that did not align with the ethics that an attorney is expected to abide by. The group found his behavior the most serious violation; that he was “leading the charge on a very fundamental act of democracy.”
Mentioned in the event, lawyers have an obligation to call out other lawyers when rules are violated — in this specific instance, Giuliani’s violations had real consequences on real people; his actions have led people to believe votes were stolen and that there is little election integrity in the election systems, despite it having been proven that fraud is rare.
Student-led efforts amongst attorneys to hold Giuliani accountable did not go unnoticed. It was mentioned that the Kline Student Bar Association has petitioned for Giuliani’s honorary degree to be revoked. The nature of this petition along with others was discussed on April 7. At the time of the publishing of this article, Drexel University president John Fry has not made a decision as to what the fate of Giuliani’s honorary degree is. But the message from the event was clear: the morals Giuliani has displayed and his calls to disenfranchise voters do not have a place within the justice system.