Twenty-two New York lawyers have filed a complaint against Rep. Lee Zeldin, accusing him of violating “the most fundamental ethics rules, including participating in frivolous litigation, making false statements regarding the presidential election, and committing, arguably, a criminal act that reflects on his trustworthiness.”
The complaint asks the Attorney Grievance Committee of the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department, where Zeldin was admitted to the New York Bar in 2004, to initiate an “immediate investigation of Rep. Zeldin’s actions and consider sanctions for his conduct, up to and including revocation of Rep. Zeldin’s license to practice law in New York.”
The complaint says Zeldin participated in “frivolous” litigation and engaged in “professional misconduct” involving “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” by signing on to an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit brought in the U.S. Supreme Court by the State of Texas Dec. 8 that sought to invalidate the election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — four battleground states won by Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
Zeldin was one of 126 House Republicans who signed the amicus brief in support of the Texas lawsuit, which was rejected by the Supreme Court on Dec. 11 for lack of standing, the legal right to sue.
The complaint to the grievance committee, a copy of which was obtained by RiverheadLOCAL Monday night, says Zeldin signed on to the brief “despite the fact that numerous courts in eight different states, including the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, had already dismissed such meritless claims.”
Beyond that, the complaint states, “In the absence of any evidence of systemic malfeasance or fraud, he made public statements questioning the results of the presidential election and has spent weeks undermining confidence in the credibility and integrity of our election process.”
Zeldin — a staunch, outspoken supporter of President Trump — continued to question the presidential election results “without proof,” despite the Electoral College’s ratification of the results, the complaint states.
The Trump campaign and Trump supporters brought a series unsuccessful legal challenges to the results of the election in those states.
In a series of about two dozen tweets since Election Day, Zeldin has questioned the election results, calling changes to election procedures in battleground states “unconstitutional irregularities.” He has tweeted frequently — most recently two days ago — about the need to protect “ballot integrity,” criticizing, as Trump has, mail-in voting.
Some states, including New York, changed voting procedures in 2020 to allow, as Zeldin put it in his tweet on Monday, “no excuse mail in balloting” because of the pandemic. Some of those changes, including New York’s, were made by executive orders during the state of emergency declared in the states in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Zeldin and others object to changes made to voting procedures established by state legislature — by what they characterize “executive fiat” and settlements of “friendly lawsuits” — as unconstitutional.
On Jan. 2, Zeldin tweeted: “Some insist everything President Trump & his supporters claim about the 2020 election is ‘evidence free’. That lie may be easy to rattle off, but it’s still a massive, destructive lie that will haunt them on Jan 6th & far into the future.”
On the afternoon of Jan. 6, the lawyers’ complaint states, Zeldin announced on Twitter that he would formally object to the Electoral College’s determination.” By making that announcement, according to the complaint, “Zeldin not only engaged in dishonest conduct, but also contributed to the incitement of the Jan. 6 insurrection.”
On the House floor on Jan. 6, Zeldin spoke in support of objections to the election results in Arizona in a statement he labeled in a Jan. 6 tweet was made “in defense of the republic.” He voted to sustain objections to the election results in both Arizona and Pennsylvania.
His statement and both votes came on Jan. 6 after a large mob of Trump supporters violently attacked the Capitol while Congress was in a joint session to certify the Electoral College, as required by the Constitution.
The mob stormed the Capitol following a 90-minute “Save America” rally in the Ellipse park at which Trump aired his grievances about the election he claimed was stolen by Democrats and “weak” Republicans. Trump urged the crowd to go to the Capitol, where Congress was beginning to count and certify the Electoral College ballots.
The Trump mob stormed the Capitol, breaching barricades, overwhelming Capitol Police, breaking doors and windows and entering the building as lawmakers met in both chambers. The sessions were cut short as the mob could be heard in the corridors. The lawmakers were evacuated and staff members and reporters barricaded themselves in offices.
The chaotic scenes were broadcast live on television and circulated on social media, capturing Trump supporters chanting “Hang Mike Pence” — someone had erected a gallows outside the Capitol during the riot — and searching for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats. Members of the mob broke into offices and into both chambers of Congress.
Zeldin issued a statement that afternoon urging “everyone to please cooperate with the Capitol Police who need to gain control of this situation immediately.” He said the violence being witnessed by America “should never be the scene at the US Capitol” and said there should be “ZERO tolerance for violence in any form!”
The riots resulted in the deaths of five people, including a uniformed Capitol Police officer who was beaten to death by the mob. Scores of other officers were injured, some seriously.
Seven hours later, after the building was secured and the crowd was dispersed, Congress resumed its constitutionally mandated count. Some shaken Republican senators withdrew their support for objections after the riot, which left only two objections supported by senators to be brought to the floor of each chamber for a vote. (Without support in the Senate, there is no vote in either chamber.) A planned objection to Georgia’s results was withdrawn, and no senators signed onto the House’s objection to results in Michigan and Nevada.
“Even after the bloodshed and terror at the Capitol, Rep. Zeldin again asserted his baseless objections to the election results,” the lawyers complaint to the grievance committee states.
“He took to the floor of the House of Representatives, and in a speech riddled with misinformation and misrepresentations, challenged the results of the Arizona and Pennsylvania elections…” the complaint states.“ Disregarding the will of the people, Rep. Zeldin sought to disenfranchise tens of millions of voters, which is particularly egregious conduct for an attorney who has been elected to high office and sworn an oath to uphold the constitution,
In a brief interview Monday following a news conference he held in Manorville, Zeldin said he had not heard anything about the complaint and could not comment on it.
Asked if he was willing to state that the 2020 presidential election was a free and fair election and constitutionally valid, Zeldin replied, “This was a free election. And we did go through the entire constitutional process.” That process includes a certification of the Electoral College vote, he said.
“After every Republican presidential win over the last generation, there have been objections that have been followed,” Zeldin said.
“At the end of that constitutional process, the first thing I did was put out a statement that says, regardless of whether you supported President Biden or or President Trump, regardless of your the opinions and passions everyone has, once Congress certifies the results, it’s over,” Zeldin said.
On the evening of Jan. 7, Zeldin issued a statement acknowledging Biden’s election.
“Moving forward, there will be continued debate and there will be disagreement, but out of that must be a healthy, guarded and even thriving republic,” he said in the Jan. 7 statement. “Right now, I am not going to dwell on any doubt, but to recommit to working towards a vigorous defense of lady liberty at all costs, and the pursuit of unity whenever possible,” he said.
The congressman reiterated Monday he still has “an issue with” changes made by executive order or otherwise to the electoral process established by state legislatures.
The lawyers’ complaint was filed with the court in Albany, where Zeldin was admitted to the New York bar in January 2004. The Shirley resident earned his law degree at Albany Law School in 2003.
The lawyers in the complaint urge the New York bar to “send a powerful message to the public that the legal profession is committed to the defense of our democratic institutions and will not tolerate the conduct of attorneys who seek to subvert the will of the people, undermine our elections, and recklessly contribute to the incitement of violence.”
RiverheadLOCAL provided Zeldin’s office with a copy of the complaint Tuesday morning, seeking additional comment from the congressman. Tuesday night, Zeldin spokesperson Katie Vincentz dismissed the complaint as a partisan attack.
“Nearly every single one of these attorneys is a registered Democrat and half have donated to Congressman Zeldin’s opponents,” Vincentz said in an email. “One even ran as a Democrat in the Town of Brookhaven and another was chairman of the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee for almost 20 years,” she said.
“The eagerness of these partisan Democrats to further divide our community and country is despicable,” Vincentz wrote.
She reiterated Zeldin’s statements Monday that Democrats have raised objections to Electoral College vote counts after the election of Republican presidents.
“It’s an incredible double standard that if Republicans object as well on the same date in the same place as part of the same process, then that makes them all seditious traitors,” Vincentz said.
“Anyone who wants to call out a Congressional Republican for supporting an objection on January 6th needs to put up their past statements calling out every Congressional Democrat who objected in the past,” she said. “If those public calls don’t exist, their calls now are just hyper-partisan and hypocritical nonsense.”
Editor’s note: This article was amended post-publication to add further comment from Rep. Lee Zeldin’s office provided Tuesday night.
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