On Monday, January 30, 2017, Sally Yates ordered the Department of Justice to stand down and not defend President Trump’s executive order to put a temporary stay on immigrants from certain countries until a new vetting system can be put in place. Sally Yates exact words were “as long as I am Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order …”.
With these words, Sally Yates violated her duties to her client, the United States of America. One does not have to look very far to find that it is the duty of the Attorney General and the Justice Department to defend the United States of America. The Justice Department’s website states that one of the principle duties of the Attorney General is to “Perform or supervise the performance of other duties required by statute or Executive Order”.
Sally Yates put her politics ahead of her client’s interest. This is an absolute no-no when it comes to lawyer’s ethics. As a lawyer, one has a duty to represent the best interest of their client. It does not matter if your client is an ax murderer who has raped 100 teenage girls. A lawyer cannot abandon a client or disregard a legal matter that is entrusted to them.
In layman’s terms, this means that an attorney is not allowed to sabotage their client’s case no matter how repulsive their client. If an attorney cannot in good faith represent a client, they must ask a court for an order to be removed from representing the client. However, the attorney is not allowed to tell the judge the reason why they need to be removed from the case. Instead, the petition is made to the court that “irreconcilable differences” have arisen and that justice requires a replacement attorney.
Yates used her political pulpit to publicly air her irreconcilable difference with the Trump Administration. She should have allowed some other attorney within the Justice Department to handle the case. She could have hired outside counsel to handle this case. However, she decided that her client was not entitled to have its day in court. She decided that her personal partisan politics were more important than Donald Trump being allowed to justify his desire to keep America safe.
Sally Yates is a Georgia attorney and as such, she is subject to the rules of the Georgia Bar. Rule 1.3 of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct states:
A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client. Reasonable diligence as used in this Rule means that a lawyer shall not without just cause to the detriment of the client in effect willfully abandon or willfully disregard a legal matter entrusted to the lawyer. The maximum penalty for a violation of this Rule is disbarment.
Sally Yates is not the first attorney in the United States to have a conflict with their client. Sally Yates is not the first government attorney who has a differing opinion then the administration. Rather than allow another attorney to handle the case or hire outside counsel, Yates decided to air her dirty laundry which is a violation of her ethical duties.
Yates is following the example of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (former California Attorney General). Harris refused to represent the people in California because she disagreed with Proposition 8. Instead of allowing the people to have their day in court, Harris simply refused to defend the people.
Because Harris was from liberal California she got away with shirking her duties. The time has come for the Georgia Bar to bring disciplinary charges against Yates. Yates needs to lose her license to practice law. This disbarment must happen to remind all government lawyers across this nation that there are consequences if you decide your personal politics trump your ethical duties to your client.
If the Georgia Bar does not step up and immediately bring disciplinary charges against Yates, it might as well re-write its ethic rules. If Yates is not immediately disbarred, there will be no stopping attorneys within the Attorney General’s office from sabotaging their client’s cases while being on the government payroll.
Good article on ethical conduct. Agree with everything except for the call for disbarment. Disbarment is the maximum penality which could be handed out from the different levels of discipline (Rule 4-102) to which could be applied in this instance. The question for the Ethics Committee would be the seriousness of the misconduct, in this case the misguided directive she issued to the department. The most likely punishment (if deemed applicable) for such conduct would be a Public Reprimand, which would take into account her sacking and previous merits and practicing history.
I agree that she should be disbarred. Lawyers take an oath to perform the duties their client asks of them. The lawyer can not pick the things that they like to do and not do things they dislike. Public defenders and other lawyers may defend clients they disagree with, but they still have a job to do. Politics does not play a part.