Gregg Jarrett: In Kavanaugh battle, are Ford's lawyers representing her, or the Democrats?

Professor Christine Blasey Ford – who has accused Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her some 36 years ago – may well have been betrayed and victimized by her own attorneys, who are Democratic activists with a record of fierce opposition to President Trump.

As a result, the attorneys ostensibly representing Ford may have breached their client’s trust and violated their ethical responsibility to act in her best interests. They may instead be motivated primarily by a desire to block President Trump’s appointment of a conservative justice to the nation’s highest court. An investigation of their conduct is warranted to determine if this is the case.

Kavanaugh has strongly denied Ford’s claim that he groped her, tried unsuccessfully to take off her clothes, and covered her mouth to stop her from screaming when the two were high school students. “I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearing Thursday.

Not a single person or piece of evidence has corroborated Ford’s claim.

The Judiciary Committee sent Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate on an 11-10 party-line vote Friday, with all Republicans supporting him and all Democrats opposed. The Senate will take up the nomination after the FBI completes a “supplemental” investigation of the allegations against Kavanaugh that was ordered Friday by President Trump.

As Fox News reported this week, Ford’s legal team is composed of Democratic lawyers, donors and operatives.

Attorney Debra S. Katz has been a vocal protester at anti-Trump rallies and was quoted as saying: “We are going to resist. We will not be silenced.” Her partner in a Washington law firm, Lisa J. Banks, is also active in Democratic politics.

And last weekend attorney Michael Bromwich joined Katz and Banks on Ford’s legal team. He represents disgraced former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired after clashing with the Trump administration over the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton and Russia investigations.

Are these the kind of attorneys who are interested in protecting their client’s best interests or are they more interested in advancing their own partisan anti-Trump agenda?

Are these the kind of attorneys who are interested in protecting their client’s best interests or are they more interested in advancing their own partisan anti-Trump agenda?

Ford, a California resident, never wanted to go public. When she first communicated her uncorroborated story privately to her representative in Congress and then to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., she said she wanted to keep her identity and story confidential.

How exactly did Ford first come in contact with, and then retain, her lawyers on the other side of the United States – about as far from California as you can get without leaving the country?

In her testimony Thursday, Ford confirmed that Feinstein recommended the Democratic lawyers! Did it ever occur to either Feinstein or these attorneys that such a referral constituted an obvious conflict of interest?

The Thursday hearing also revealed that Ford’s lawyers are working for free. This certainly raises legitimate questions. Perhaps their compensation is the political satisfaction of stopping a Republican president from naming a justice to the nation’s highest court.

Ford’s understandable hopes for protecting her privacy were dashed when her letter to Feinstein describing the alleged assault was leaked to the media in violation of her wishes. Still, Ford was reluctant to appear at a public hearing. She feared becoming the target of smears and threats.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sent several communications to Ford’s lawyers – Katz and Banks. He offered Ford a private interview in her home state of California.

In an email dated Sept. 19, Grassley wrote: “My staff would still welcome the opportunity to speak with Dr. Ford at any time, at any place convenient to her. Come to us, or we to you. I’m willing to have my staff travel to California, or anywhere else, to obtain her testimony.”

Grassley clearly was doing everything humanly possible to accommodate Ford and be sensitive to her concerns.

That same day, Grassley reiterated his offer in a letter to Katz and Banks. He said that he was disturbed to learn that Ford and her family had received threats of intimidation.

Grassley then again offered to take Ford’s testimony in private. He wrote: “My staff would still welcome the opportunity to speak with Dr. Ford at a time and place convenient to her.”

When Grassley received no response, the Judiciary Committee repeated its offer for a private meeting in a third communication  to Katz and Banks, dated Sept. 21:

The very senator who Ford trusted to keep her story confidential encouraged the professor to hire Democratic-activist lawyers who may have been motivated to push for a public hearing in defiance of their client’s wishes is extraordinarily significant.

The committee wrote to the attorneys: “We are committed to providing a secure and respectful setting for her testimony. The Chairman fully agrees with Dr. Ford that we cannot have another ‘media circus.’ The Chairman has offered the ability for Dr. Ford to testify in an open session, a closed session, a public staff interview, and a private staff interview. The Chairman is even willing to fly female staff investigators to meet Dr. Ford and you in California, or anywhere else, to obtain Dr. Ford’s testimony.”

But the private interview never happened. When Ford finally testified at Thursday’s Judiciary Committee public hearing, she seemed surprised that she could have avoided the public spectacle.

Here is Ford’s exchange with counsel for the committee Rachel Mitchell at the Thursday hearing. Importantly, note how Ford’s attorney objected in an effort to stop her from answering:

Mitchell: Was it communicated to you by your counsel or someone else that the committee had asked to interview you, and that they offered to come out to California to do so?

Ford Attorney:  I’m going to object, Mr. Chairman, to any call for privileged conversation between counsel and Dr. Ford.

Mitchell: Could you validate that the offer was made, without saying a word?  Is it possible for that question to be answered without violating any counsel relationships?

Ford: Can I say something to you? Do you mind if I say something to you directly?  I just appreciate that you did offer that. I wasn’t clear on what the offer was. If you were going to come out to see me, I would have happily hosted you and been happy to speak with you out there. I just did not – it was not clear to me that that was the case.

Did Ford attorneys Katz and Banks not make it clear to their client that she could avoid the nightmarish scenario that unfolded in Thursday’s hearing?

Did the lawyers who are supposed to be representing Ford not dutifully communicate to her that she could easily circumvent what Kavanaugh himself described as “a national disgrace?”

Or was a rancorous public hearing what Katz and Banks really wanted all along, ignoring their client’s desire to maintain some semblance of privacy?

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., suspects that Ford’s lawyers manipulated and exploited their own client for the purpose of achieving their political goal of destroying Kavanaugh, even if it meant victimizing Ford.

Graham said Friday: “I about fell out of my chair when Dr. Ford said yesterday, ‘I didn’t know that you would be willing to come to me.’”

A private meeting, Graham correctly observed, “wouldn’t fit the plan. It wouldn’t be public, and it would get over with sooner than people wanted.”

Graham is a seasoned trial lawyer and former judge. He can spot an attorney hustle a mile away. Graham quite rightly called for an investigation into why Ford’s lawyers did not unambiguously convey the committee’s offer. 

The fact that the very senator who Ford trusted to keep her story confidential encouraged the professor to hire Democratic-activist lawyers who may have been motivated to push for a public hearing in defiance of their client’s wishes is extraordinarily significant.

The Rules of Professional Conduct that govern lawyers prohibit conflicts of interest and require that all offers must be fully, honestly, and promptly conveyed to the client (American Bar Association Rule 1.4).

In Washington, where Katz and Banks practice law, Rule 1.3 states: “A lawyer should always act in a manner consistent with the best interests of the client.” There are now serious and legitimate questions as to whether this rule was violated.

Sadly, the travesty of Thursday’s ugly and acrimonious hearing could all have been avoided, if only Professor Ford understood clearly that she had another option available to her. That is surely her lawyers’ fault.