A government watchdog group on Friday filed a complaint against Lane Ruhland with the Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) alleging the attorney has been violating ethics and conflict of interest obligations by working for both the presidential campaigns of both Kanye West and Donald Trump. Ruhland – the former general counsel for the state Republican party and senior counsel at law firm Husch Blackwell – made headlines on Tuesday when a local reporter recorded her hand delivering West’s nominating petitions with state regulators in Madison, Wisconsin. A state GOP spokesperson later confirmed that Ruhland was retained by the West campaign.
A local GOP source tells me this is Lane Ruhland, a top WIGOP election lawyer who was former general counsel for the state party. Ruhland didn't deny it when I called her: "I’m going to leave any comment about the petitions, the papers and what’s going on to the campaign itself." https://t.co/anXBf5Ez5y
— Cameron Joseph (@cam_joseph) August 4, 2020
But as the complaint filed by the Campaign for Accountability (CfA) pointed out, as of Friday, Ruhland still appeared to be working for President Trump’s re-election campaign. Ruhland’s name appeared on a legal brief filed in Wisconsin federal court on behalf of the Trump campaign as recently as July 27. The docket for that case, a lawsuit against a small Wisconsin television station for airing a commercial produced by Priorities USA, still lists Ruhland and two other attorneys from her firm as legal representatives of the Trump campaign.
And because West and Trump would be running against each other and vying to win the same potential voters, such dual-representation presents a clear conflict of interest that violates the Wisconsin Bar’s rules, the complaint says.
“Simultaneous legal representation of two candidates competing for the same office is a paradigmatic example of a conflict of interest,” CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith wrote in the complaint.
CfA specifically cites to Rule 1.7 of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibits an attorney from representing a client where “the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client” — which the group says is directly applicable to Ruhland’s alleged dual representation.
“The interests of Kanye West’s 2020 campaign for U.S. President are clearly adverse to the interests of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., as both individuals cannot simultaneously obtain the office and hence legal steps that advance the interests on one candidacy harm the interests of the other candidacy,” the complaint stated. “As an attorney for the Trump campaign, she simply cannot show the ‘loyalty and independent judgment’ representing the West campaign that are an “essential element” in a lawyer’s relationship to a client.”
— Shawn in Wisconsin (@ShawnFetta) August 5, 2020
Additionally, CfA asserted that given Ruhland’s long history as a top GOP attorney, her decision to suddenly leave the campaign of the party’s incumbent presidential nominee raised questions regarding “whether she has personal commitments and interests inconsistent with zealously representing the interests of Kanye West’s presidential campaign.”
West recently told Forbes that his campaign is intended to hurt Joe Biden, not Trump. The Forbes report says “GOP operatives” were working “to get [West] on state ballots.” The move might be interpreted as one of divide and conquer: siphoning voters off of the Biden ballot might lead to a win for Trump. Wisconsin is a critical swing state. And Rule 1.7 does contain wiggle room for representations across adverse lines to occur. It is simply rare.
Read the full complaint below.
[image via Twitter screengrab]
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