A federal court in Washington DC on Thursday refused to intervene in a disciplinary hearing over former Department of Justice (DOJ) official Jeffrey Clark’s participation in an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The US District Court for the District of Columbia said they had no jurisdiction over the DC Board on Professional Responsibility Office of Disciplinary Counsel’s (ODC) proceedings against Clark. The board first launched its investigation into Clark following revelations that he participated in and helped further former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 US presidential election.
The board recommended Clark be disciplined after finding in July 2022 that he was dishonest and attempted to interfere with justice, in violation of his professional responsibilities as a lawyer barred to practice in DC. After the ODC launched its proceedings, Clark filed with the District Court of DC to have a federal judge oversee the proceedings, as opposed to ODC officials. On Thursday, the court refused, citing a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction over the proceedings.
Clark argued the court could oversee the case because of the “hybrid nature of Bar disciplinary proceedings”—claiming that aspects of the proceedings are reminiscent of both civil and criminal proceedings. However, the court said that because the proceedings were neither criminal nor civil, Clark cannot move the proceedings to federal court.
Clark also argued, in the alternative, that the court should oversee the proceedings because they present a so-called federal question. But the court again rejected Clark’s argument, finding it had “no merit.” The court dismissed Clark’s use of dated precedent and said that, because the proceedings did not arise under federal law, the court had no federal question jurisdiction.
As a result of Thursday’s decision, Clark will face ODC proceedings before a quasi-judicial body, known as a hearing committee. Specifically, the board alleges that Clark violated Rules 8.4(a), (c) and (d) of the DC Rules of Professional Conduct. Those rules prevent lawyers barred to practice in DC from engaging in dishonest conduct or interfering in the administration of justice.
A group of 34 attorneys first brought Clark’s actions to the attention of the board in October 2021. Their 15-page complaint against Clark claimed he violated the DC Rules of Professional Conduct when he sought to have the DOJ commence a process that would have nullified the 2020 presidential election results in multiple states.
The public became fully aware of the allegations against Clark in proceedings before the US House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. In a June 2022 hearing, DOJ officials who served during the Trump administration described how Clark penned a letter on behalf of Trump claiming Georgia’s election integrity was compromised. The claims, which were false, were made by Trump in an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, where current President Joe Biden achieved a majority share of the votes. Trump also later attempted to install Clark as acting Attorney General of the US, but like the letter, this effort also failed.