Campaign for Accountability Files Bar Complaint Against Lane Ruhland Alleging Potential Legal Ethics Violations for Working for the Campaigns of Both Kanye West and Trump
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 7, 2020
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group focused on public accountability, filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation seeking an investigation into whether attorney Lane Ruhland engaged in conduct inconsistent with her ethical obligations as a member of the Wisconsin Bar. News reports indicate that Ms. Ruhland simultaneously represented and engaged in legal work on behalf of two parties with directly adverse interests, the presidential campaigns of Kanye West and Donald J. Trump. Such representation appears to violate Ms. Ruhland’s ethical obligations under Wisconsin Bar Rules to avoid representing parties where there is a conflict of interests between the parties.
CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith stated, “Bar rules are clear: lawyers can’t represent two parties with adverse interests. It’s hard to imagine how anything could be more adverse than the intensely competitive and combative race for President of the United States. The Wisconsin Bar has an obligation to investigate Ms. Ruhland’s apparent violation of ethics rules.”
News reports indicate that shortly after 5:00 pm on August 4, 2020, Ms. Ruhland submitted filing paperwork and signatures with the Wisconsin Elections Commission in an effort to place Kanye West’s name on the ballot as a candidate for President of the United States, presumably on behalf of Mr. West’s campaign. A spokesperson for the Republican Party of Wisconsin issued a statement indicating Mr. West’s campaign had retained Ms. Ruhland to represent it as an election attorney.
Yet on July 27, 2020, Ms. Ruhland—together with other attorneys at her law firm, Husch Blackwell LLP—appeared on a brief filed on behalf of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., in federal court in a lawsuit against a Wisconsin television station that aired a television ad on behalf of Priorities USA.
Simultaneous legal representation of two candidates competing for the same office is a paradigmatic example of a conflict of interest. With limited exceptions, Rule 1.7 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys, Supreme Court Rule 20, prohibits lawyers from representing a client “if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest.” A conflict is defined to include circumstances where “the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client” or where “there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the client’s responsibilities to another client.” As an attorney for the Trump campaign, Ms. Ruhl cannot show the “loyalty and independent judgment” in representing the West campaign that are an “essential element” in a lawyer’s relationship to a client. Ms. Ruhle’s extensive prior work on behalf of the interests of the Republican Party of Wisconsin and the Republican National Committee also raise questions regarding whether she has personal commitments and interests inconsistent with zealously representing the interests of Kanye West’s presidential campaign.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “The fact that a lawyer for the Trump campaign is working to put Kanye West on the ballot suggests the West campaign is a sham. It’s a truism that politics is a dirty business, but there’s no political exception to Bar rules. Ms. Ruhland must be held accountable for her actions.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.