Sessions Faces Ethical Lawsuit from ACLU

By: Jacob Robertson, 1L

Contributing Writer

Newly appointed attorney general Jeff Sessions has not had an easy few weeks. The next few may be even tougher following an ethics complaint against him in his home state of Alabama.

Two weeks after reports surfaced showing that Sessions had met with Russia’s ambassador despite his sworn testimony otherwise, the ACLU filed a complaint to the Alabama State Bar’s disciplinary commission.

“Jeff Sessions told a falsehood to the Senate, and did nothing to correct his statement until he was exposed by the press more than a month later. No attorney, whether just starting out as a new lawyer or serving as the country’s top law enforcement officer, should lie under oath. The Alabama bar must investigate this wrong fully and fairly,” said Christopher Anders, deputy director of the ACLU’s legislative office.

The complaint cites Alabama Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(c), which provides that engaging “in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” is unprofessional and unbefitting of a lawyer. It further provides that lawyers in public office have legal responsibilities exceeding those of other citizens.

David Thompson, 1L, mirrored these concerns, saying that “ethics are the minimum standard of what’s deemed acceptable by society. I want leaders with values that surpass what’s deemed minimally permissible.”

During his January 10th hearing before the Senate Judiciary committee, Senator Al Franken asked if “anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign” had been in contact with the Russian government. Sessions responded that he personally had not.

Bruce Kennedy, 1L, sees the potential for error on both sides of the hearing, and feels the complaint should come down to “whether Franken’s question allowed too broad of an answer, and therefore he should have asked a more straightforward question; or whether Sessions intentionally answered in such a manner that would mislead others.”

Jeff Sessions speaking at a podium

Source:| Attorney General Jeff Sessions faces ethical complaints from the ACLU over Russia ties.

Kennedy believes that, in this aspect, it presents some “key issues of professional responsibility,” and provides courts with an opportunity to address evasiveness in answers and lack of specificity in questioning in a concrete and decisive way.

The issue does not end with the hearing, however. On January 17th, Sessions provided for the record a written response to Senator Patrick Leahy’s question, “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” Sessions replied “No.”

The complaint cites both pieces of testimony, in addition to the revelatory report from The Washington Post detailing his contacts with Russian officials, as reasons for disciplinary action against Sessions.

These complaints against the long-time lawyer and politician, a member of the bar in Alabama since 1973, come on the heels of an arduous confirmation process and a bevy of legal challenges to the Trump administration’s travel bans. Sessions’ nomination was so contentious that it inspired an open letter by more than 1,400 law professors from across the country, including 13 of Washington and Lee’s own, opposing his confirmation. The letter, which spread rapidly through various media outlets and social media platforms, cited his bipartisan rejection during his nomination for a federal judgeship in 1986, as well as allegations of racial insensitivity, his aggressive stances on drugs and incarceration, his denial of man-made climate change, and fears of his stances on equal protection of women and LGBTQIA+ populations.

If the five-member disciplinary board does find Sessions guilty of misconduct, the repercussions for the newly-minted attorney general could be quite severe: a complete disbarment – which is possible – would prevent him from fulfilling many of his duties.

Whatever the outcome, it’s not likely to be resolved any time soon. Indeed, at this point an investigation has not even begun, and such an investigation and subsequent ruling could take many months. Nevertheless, the complaint is likely to be a thorn in Sessions’ side for some time to come.