Pennsylvania: Disbar John Yoo for Torture
An ethics complaint has been filed with the State Bar of Pennsylvania, raising ethics concerns surrounding the performance of former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer John Yoo in his official capacity. The complaint—on which University of California administrators have hinged the possibility of Yoo's dismissal from the law school—remains pending. Sign this letter today to demand a robust and thorough inquiry.
The alleged ethical violations in this arena are so severe that they implicate not only our profession’s integrity, but even the very basis for rule of law. As members of the State Bar, we hold a duty to report potential ethical violations and to ensure that they are fully investigated and, if warranted, punished as provided by law.
The Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement direct the Disciplinary Board to take appropriate action to uphold the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct and ensure that violations of its rules are not ignored. The Disciplinary Board should therefore carefully examine members of the State Bar who may have (a) failed to meet the scope and objectives of legal representation, and (b) failed to exercise independent professional judgment and render candid advice.
Rule 1.2(d) states that “A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent, but a lawyer may discuss the legal consequences of any proposed course of conduct with a client and may counsel or assist a client to make a good faith effort to determine the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law.”
Further, Comment 9 regarding Rule 1.2(d) elaborates that if “a lawyer who comes to know or reasonably should know that a client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law…, the lawyer must consult with the client regarding the limitations on the lawyer’s conduct.”
The Office of Legal Counsel memos authored by Mr. Yoo do not directly grapple with the question of minimal process for the detainees, nor do they fairly present relevant case law, including previous prosecutions of those who employed waterboarding. There is no valid legal precedent that supports Mr. Yoo’s arguments advocating torture, and, in fact, all well-established law holds to the contrary. The memos extensively detail the parameters of a number of extreme torture techniques, which most legal scholars and experts deem to be torture. As such, Mr. Yoo’s advocacy was not made in “good faith” as required by Rule 1.2 (d). He revealed himself to be deeply engaged in the actual application of the torture rather than providing “good faith” analysis of the applicable law bearing on the practice or consulting with his client, the President, regarding the limitations on his conduct.
Rule 2.01 states, “In representing a client, a lawyer shall exercise independent professional judgment and render candid advice.” The Rule goes on to state that “In rendering advice, the lawyer may refer not only to law but to other considerations such as moral, economic, social and political factors, that may be relevant to the client’s situation.”
Judging from the available public record, Mr. Yoo did not raise any possible ethical or moral concerns to the use of torture on detainees. Extreme violence intended to coerce and intimidate, as outlined in legal advocacy advanced by Mr. Yoo was, and is, torture and clearly violates ethical rules governing our profession.
These complaints against Mr. John Choon Yoo raise serious issues worthy of a thorough and rigorous investigation by the Disciplinary Board. As members of the Pennsylvania Bar Association and others committed to the rule of law, we share an interest in the ethical integrity of the legal profession and accordingly urge you to undertake a comprehensive and robust inquiry to ensure that these interests are fully vindicated.