Trump hires election lawyers who were supposed to defend Georgia

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger gives an update on the election results during a press conference the day after Election Day at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Wednesday, November 4, 2020. Hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots have not been counted, primarily in Fulton and DeKalb County as of last night. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said this morning he believes most of the counting will be finished today.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger gives an update on the election results during a press conference the day after Election Day at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Wednesday, November 4, 2020. Hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots have not been counted, primarily in Fulton and DeKalb County as of last night. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said this morning he believes most of the counting will be finished today. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Does representation of both Trump and state create a conflict of interest?

The Georgia lawyers representing the Trump campaign in its efforts to challenge election results here are also defending the integrity of the state’s voting system in an ongoing lawsuit.

The dual representation of both the president’s campaign and the Georgia secretary of state’s office raises questions about potential conflicts of interest.

Attorneys aren’t allowed to represent a client if there’s a “significant risk” of adversely affecting another client, according to rules of the State Bar of Georgia. The maximum penalty is disbarment.

The Trump campaign pressured Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to start a recount this week, alleging vote-counting irregularities without citing evidence. Raffensperger later ordered an audit and recount but said his decision wasn’t influenced by the Trump campaign.

ExploreGeorgia orders statewide, by-hand recount of presidential election

Attorneys for Taylor English Duma, a firm based in Atlanta, brought a court case last week on behalf of Trump’s campaign alleging improper absentee ballot handling by Chatham County election officials. A judge quickly dismissed that case, finding no evidence to support the claims. The firm’s attorneys haven’t sued Raffensperger.

Further elections lawsuits could arise on behalf of the Trump campaign, but a spokeswoman for the firm said there’s no conflict of interest.

Clark Cunningham, an attorney and legal ethics professor at Georgia State University, questioned how that could be true.

“I am surprised and dismayed that senior lawyers at the Taylor English law firm agreed to advocate the interests of the Trump campaign, which is attacking the accuracy of the Nov. 3 vote count in Georgia, at the same time they were responsible for defending the secretary of state in pending federal litigation,” Cunningham said.

Mixed loyalties between Trump’s campaign and the secretary of state’s office could interfere with the defense against the lawsuit alleging Georgia’s voting system is insecure, he said. The lawsuit is seeking to replace touchscreens and printed-out ballots with ballots voters would fill in by hand.

For example, the attorneys' attempts to negotiate a settlement in that lawsuit might conflict with the Trump campaign’s opposition to that outcome, he said. Another risk is that information the attorneys gained through their representation of the secretary of state could be later used against the state government.

By representing the Trump campaign, the attorneys are advocating for a candidate who might later become involved in lawsuits against the secretary of state’s office over elections, Cunningham said.

The attorneys for Taylor English Duma who represent both the Trump campaign and Raffensperger are Jonathan Crumly Sr., Bryan Jacoutot, Loree Anne Paradise and Bryan Tyson.

“There is no conflict that exists between providing advice to a campaign about Georgia law and representing government officials who are carrying out those same laws,” said Molly Metz, a spokeswoman for Taylor English Duma.

Bryan Tyson is one of four Taylor English Duma attorneys who is representing both the Trump campaign and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Photo: Taylor English Duma
Bryan Tyson is one of four Taylor English Duma attorneys who is representing both the Trump campaign and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Photo: Taylor English Duma

The secretary of state’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In September, before the Trump campaign began suing over elections in Georgia, Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said there was no conflict between advising campaigns and defending state election law.

Another law firm also represents the secretary of state’s office, the Robbins Firm, while also representing the Georgia Republican Party. Together with attorneys from Taylor English, the Robbins Firm brought the Chatham County case over absentee ballot handling while defending the state’s Election Day deadline for absentee ballots.

An attorney for the Robbins Firm, Josh Belinfante, said it represents neither the Trump campaign nor Fulton County, which the Georgia Republican Party accused of counting ballots after telling Republican observers they were shutting down for the night.

The Robbins Firm was paid about $653,000 in fiscal 2019 by the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office, which hired outside counsel to defend the secretary of state, according to government records. Taylor English Duma received about $72,000 that year.

Overall, the attorney general’s office spent $3.2 million in attorney fees and expenses to defend the state against elections lawsuits over the past three years.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has also aligned himself with an organization siding with the Republican Party — and against a state — over elections rules. The Republican Attorneys General Association announced Tuesday that Carr will be its chairman in 2021.

The group spent about $1.3 million supporting Carr’s Georgia campaign in the 2018 elections and campaigned for the president’s reelection.

The association has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that allowed mail-in ballots to be counted if they were postmarked by Election Day and received by the following Friday.

Carr won’t participate in the Pennsylvania case because of potential litigation in Georgia, said Katie Byrd, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office. Carr’s elected position allows him “full participation in the political process," she said.

"He is proud to have been chosen by his peers to lead this organization that is committed to conserving the Constitution, making our neighborhoods safer and enforcing the rule of law,” Byrd said.

Staff writer James Salzer contributed to this article.

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