A top attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) was unlawfully practicing law before the federal court system. He apologized to a judge in a letter filed Monday.
Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey B. Clark stopped paying his dues to remain in good standing with the federal bar in October of last year—an oversight he discovered on December 9, 2019, according to a two-page letter submitted with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“I write to notify you that at the time one or more filings were made in [an ongoing case before the court] in the span of time between October 1, 2019 and December 9, 2019, my name appeared on the federal government’s filing,” Clark begins, “During this time period, my District of Columbia bar license was inadvertently in inactive status.”
Clark’s epistolary mea culpa continues:
Unbeknownst to me, on or about October 1, 2019, my DC bar license had been placed on inactive status for inadvertent non-payment of that year’s dues…To my knowledge, I had not missed a dues payment deadline in any prior year.
And, according to the assistant attorney general, he made short work of the months-long deficiency.
”I discovered this one-time lapse on December 9, 2019, paid the necessary dues and the $280 penalty fee, and took immediate steps to correct the problem, such that it was fixed the next day, December 10, 2019,” Clark goes on to note.
Clark’s letter explains that he first “reported the dues issue to Justice Department authorities” in line with DOJ rules governing such oversights which mandate that government attorneys “immediately self-report to [the Office of Professional Responsibility] any lapse in active bar membership during department employment.”
Clark also told U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson that he was keeping her apprised out of an abundance of caution:
Upon further consultation with the relevant department office, I determined to bring the matter to the court’s attention and I followed its advice on the form of this letter: Specifically, if because my name appeared on a filing I implicitly represented that my D.C. Bar license was active and was authorized to represent the United States at that time (Department attorneys must maintain an active state-bar license), I wish to correct any such implicit representation and extend my sincere apology. I was not aware of the lapse due to nonpayment of dues and did not intend to mislead the court.
The letter, while effusively apologetic, conspicuously does not note how, exactly, Clark finally learned that he was several months late in paying his dues.
There is one clue, however, as to how the high-powered lawyer totally missed the mark here.
According to Clark, his former firm of Kirkland & Ellis “handled paying” his dues for the past 12 years or so—from 2006 through 2018.
“The DC Bar did not have my correct address and I received no mail forwarded to me from my prior private law firm,” the assistant attorney general noted.
Clark was confirmed by the Senate and took office as the head of DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in October 2018.
As for the filings inadvertently bearing false witness? Clark has been working on the White House’s legal actions against California’s efforts to curb automobile emissions. The Golden State reached an agreement with several automakers last summer to enact a series of standards more stringent than recently-relaxed national standards. The Trump administration cried foul and went after those businesses in a bid to keep fuel efficiency standards low.
Read Clark’s full letter to the court below:
[image via Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images]