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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Elizabeth Warren, Unlicensed Lawyer?



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Over at Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson has a bombshell: considerable evidence that Democrat Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren practiced law in Massachusetts without a license.

I confirmed with the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers by telephone that Warren never has been admitted to practice in Massachusetts.  I had two conversations with the person responsible for verifying attorney status.  In the first conversation the person indicated she did not see any entry for Warren in the computer database, but she wanted to double check.  I spoke with her again several hours later, and she indicated she had checked their files and also had spoken with another person in the office, and there was no record of Warren ever having been admitted to practice in Massachusetts.

You don’t need a law license to teach law, but you need one if your duty includes “the examination of statutes, judicial decisions, and departmental rulings, for the purpose of advising upon a question of law … and the rendering to a client of an opinion thereon.”

Among her cases in recent years: “As reported earlier by Globe reporter Noah Bierman, Travelers hired Warren to represent the insurance company in its fight to gain permanent immunity from asbestos-related lawsuits; in exchange for that immunity, the insurance company said it would establish a $500 million trust for current and future victims of asbestos poisoning. Warren succeeded in that mission, successfully arguing Travelers case before the U.S. Supreme Court. She was paid $212,000 by Travelers from 2008 to 2010.”

He concludes, “I detail above the facts and law which lead me to the conclusion that Warren has practiced law in Massachusetts without a license in violation of Massachusetts law for well over a decade. I expect Warren will disagree, and I welcome a discussion of the facts and the law.”

Will this interest the Massachusetts media at all?

UPDATE: One of my readers, a lawyer, writes in:

The post indicates that this is a federal case.  You do not need to be licensed to practice law in Massachusetts to practice law in federal courts located in Massachusetts or anywhere else.  Federal courts decide who can practice before them, and individual states can’t tell federal courts that an attorney cannot practice before them.  It’s that whole supremacy clause thing.  Constitution 101 and all that. 

It is really well established that a federal district court can admit an attorney to practice before it even if the attorney is not licensed in that state.  You most certainly do not need to be licensed in the state where a federal court of appeals sits to appear before the federal court of appeals.  I am clearly practicing law when I argue before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.  It does not matter that I am not licensed in Ohio. 

The blurb also mentions taking the case to the US Supreme Court.  I have submitted an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court on a case that originated in West Virginia state courts even though I am not licensed to practice there.  I was not practicing law without a license when I did so because I was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Another veteran lawyer writes in to Campaign Spot:

I have practiced law for 30 years.  Your correspondent is correct that a federal court can permit an attorney from a state outside the state wherein the federal court sits to appear before that court.  The practice is called “pro hac vice,” which is Latin for “for this occasion.”  Here are the pro hac vice requirements for the District Court of Mass, which would be the relevant court in this case.

However, this does not conclude the issue.  There would still need to be an attorney licensed in Mass. who moved for Ms. Warren to be admitted pro hac vice for the case at hand.  Such a document would have to be in the docket of the case as to which she was representing her client.  If Ms. Warren simply filed pleadings without first being admitted to the court pro hac vice, she would be implicitly representing to the court that she was, in fact, licensed to practice in Mass., and if she was not so licensed, she would have violated the court’s rules, and, in effect, have committed a fraud upon the court.


Tags: Elizabeth Warren , Scott Brown


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