Legal advocacy group files ethics complaint against Schmidt tied to 2020 election lawsuit

Kansas attorney general’s office expects latest complaint to be dismissed

By: - September 23, 2022 9:28 am
An organization filed an ethics complaint against Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, accusing him of misconduct by participating in a 2020 lawsuit questioning election procedures in four swing states that helped President Joe Biden defeat former President Donald Trump. This 22-foot marble sculpture dominates the lobby of the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

An organization filed an ethics complaint against Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, accusing him of misconduct by participating in a 2020 lawsuit questioning election procedures in four swing states that helped President Joe Biden defeat former President Donald Trump. This 22-foot marble sculpture dominates the lobby of the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — An organization dedicated to challenging lawyers accused of using the judicial system to aid President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election filed an ethics complaint against the Kansas attorney general and 14 of his peers across the country.

The 65 Project, which portrays itself as a bipartisan group, targeted Attorney General Derek Schmidt and other current or former state attorneys general for taking part in a lawsuit in 2020 viewed as a desperate search for legal loopholes leading to reversal of President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.

Michael Teter, managing director of The 65 Project, submitted a complaint Wednesday to the Kansas Office of the Disciplinary Administrator alleging Schmidt used his public office to “amplify false assertions and frivolous claims that lacked any basis in law or fact.”

The allegation was linked to Schmidt’s formal support of a lawsuit initiated by the Texas attorney general with the U.S. Supreme Court contesting administration of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. One objective was to prevent electors in those swing states from voting in the Electoral College and to potentially replace the electors with people approved by Trump.

The state of Pennsylvania responded with a brief declaring the Texas-based claim “seditious abuse” of the judicial process. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

John Milburn, spokesman for the Kansas attorney general, said The 65 Project’s action followed “multiple baseless complaints” submitted last year to the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator against Schmidt.

“All were dismissed and we expect this election-year retread will be, too,” Milburn said.

Comparable ethics complaints were filed by The 65 Project against attorneys general in Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Milburn released a March 2021 letter issued by Kansas deputy disciplinary administrator Kate Baird in response to a complaint from Georgia challenging Schmidt’s role in seeking judicial review of voting in the four swing states. It was alleged Schmidt’s signing of the 2020 legal brief was “frivolous and wholly without merit.” The state disciplinary office dismissed the complaint.

Baird said Schmidt explained he joined the effort to urge federal consideration of issues on the separation of powers. It wasn’t the first time Schmidt’s office had been involved in questions regarding the electors clause, she said.

“Our office does not have authority to substitute our judgment for that of an attorney as he or she determines whether to assert or defend a claim,” Baird said. “Our review is limited to an assessment of whether there is a good faith basis, that is not frivolous, for asserting a claim.”

She said facts of the matter didn’t demonstrate Schmidt violated ethics rules applicable to attorneys in Kansas.

In the latest complaint, The 65 Project asserted Schmidt violated four planks of the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct. The complaint alleged Schmidt was dishonest, advanced a frivolous argument and contributed to work of others engaged in professional misconduct.

“Mr. Schmidt chose to offer his professional license and public trust to Mr. Trump’s arsenal during the latter’s assault on our democracy,” said Teter, of The 65 Project. “He cannot be shielded from the consequences of that decision simply because he holds high public office.”

The group’s complaint noted two members of Schmidt’s staff traveled in 2019 to a meeting where senior staffers of conservative state attorneys general participated in “war games” to develop post-election legal strategy in the event Trump lost reelection. The summit was put on by the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a group with ties to the Republican Attorneys General Association.

The Rule of Law Defense Fund also contributed to runup of the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol with robocalls providing details to guide protesters from the White House to the Capitol in an effort to “stop the steal.” In wake of the assault, Schmidt condemned actions of rioters.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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