The Georgia and DC bars have now dismissed a set of ethics complaints against attorney Stefan Passantino. As readers may recall, LDAD filed an 18-page ethics complaint against Passantino in both Georgia and DC in connection with his representation of Cassidy Hutchinson, a key witness before the Congressional committee investigating the events of January 6, 2021.

Passantino, a former Trump White House lawyer who had been retained by a Trump PAC to represent Hutchinson, reportedly had coached Hutchinson to limit her sworn testimony by repeatedly stating, falsely, that she did not recall events involving then-President Trump. LDAD argued that these actions were a breach of Passantino's duty to represent his client and instead were an effort to protect the best interests of the former President. In the time since her televised testimony, former President Trump and his supporters have publicly attacked Hutchinson. Just this week, Trump suggested that Hutchinson should be "prosecuted" for her testimony.

Hutchinson ultimately decided not to cooperate with the investigation by the District of Columbia Bar, which, the Bar said, contributed to its inability to verify the allegations against Passantino by the "clear and convincing" standard required under DC law. The Georgia Bar did not provide a fulsome explanation for its action, but did confirm that it had investigated the matter before dismissing it.

Here are three key takeaways from the Passantino matter:

First, witness intimidation has become increasingly normalized -- and needs to be stopped. Trump and others in his orbit regularly threaten witnesses, prosecutors, lawyers, and others associated with the myriad investigations into the former President. We don't know why Hutchinson decided not to cooperate in these investigations, but we do know that the normalization and acceptance of this kind of conduct is a serious threat to the proper functioning of our system of justice. Laws against this kind of intimidation must be enforced.

Second, false claims that ethics complaints are being "weaponized"  for political reasons undermine the integrity of the legal profession. In a clear swipe at the complaints filed against his client, Passantino's lawyer said that "[u]nlike others, bar officials looked carefully at the facts and the law." LDAD's complaints were based on extensive research, legal insight from leading ethics attorneys, and supported by dozens of respected lawyers. Whatever one thinks of the dismissal of these complaints, there should be no doubt that the complaints themselves were grounded in sworn testimony and described actionable behavior by Passantino. 

Third, lawyers must speak out against unethical behavior in our ranks and stand up for our code of ethics. The complaint against Passantino raised disturbing issues regarding the ethics of his conduct in representing Hutchinson. Our obligation as lawyers is to raise such issues when they arise. It harms the bar and the public that a full investigation of these allegations could not be completed. In the face of continuing disregard for rules of ethics, witness intimidation, and attacks on the integrity of our system of justice, lawyers have a special role -- and a special responsibility -- to speak out publicly against this behavior.