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  • Writer's pictureMario Nicolais

Jenna Ellis got reprimanded, but only after getting rich first

Last week, the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel officially recognized what many already knew: Jenna Ellis, former President Trump’s erstwhile attorney, crossed multiple ethical lines defending his lies about the 2020 presidential election.

Ellis received a public censure. She stipulated to making misrepresentations on national television and Twitter and “undermining the American public’s confidence in the 2020 presidential election.”

Ellis also received fame, fortune and a career by telling those lies. You can bet that she would make the same tradeoff 100 out of 100 times. So would a lot of other people. It is the terrible juxtaposition of cases like these.

It has been less than a year since the U.S. House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack began its hearings on the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol spurred on by false statements similar to those Ellis tossed about so recklessly. Ellis often shared the podium with Rudy Giuliani, a primary January 6th oratory falsehood peddler (who actually did lose his law license in New York).

As I watched many former Trump staff members testify, I found myself torn. I acknowledged the difficulty and pressure they faced to do so — up to and including potential witness tampering from people high within the ranks of Trump’s orbit. But I could not bring myself to entirely forgive serving in his administration and contributing to a multitude of harms against the country.

For example, Cassidy Hutchinson won acclaim as a staffer in her mid-twenties willing to testify about conversations that took place among high-ranking members of the White House on January 6, 2021. But she was only there because she had taken the opportunity to fast-track her own career by working for then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Maybe I struggle with it because I had a similar offer. At the end of 2016, after Trump had won the presidency, one of his senior staff members asked me if I’d like a job in the White House. For anyone that has spent significant time in politics, that is a dream come true. Yet I declined.

I could not ethically work for Trump.

I am not trying to toot my own horn. Sometimes, I still wonder what might have happened in my career or life if I had made a different choice. At that time I had nearly two decades of political experience and had won several major election law trials.

It is difficult to see someone like Ellis, who as far as I am aware had never argued an election law case — and who appears to only have escaped disbarment because she was never even allowed to enter her name as counsel of record on any of Trump’s pleadings — rewarded so richly for simply having the moral flexibility to mislead millions of Americans over and over again.

And it was all in the name of personal gain. Fellow Colorado Sun columnist Craig Silverman highlighted her ineptitude and about-face on Trump more than two years ago. He called her a grifter at the time.

But she has grifted her way to the very top. Self-styled as “America’s Lawyer” on Twitter, she has nearly a million followers and her own television show. And in the face of the slap on the wrist she received from OARC, she replied with statements flouting her continued “good standing” as a lawyer and denying she ever lied.

She learned her lesson: if you have no moral compass, you can get ahead and stay on top. Maybe that is precisely why Trump liked her so much; he saw a kindred spirit.

Ellis is an awful attorney who will likely avoid courtrooms for the rest of her career to avoid being exposed in places where her fame and following have no influence. But that will not keep her from profiteering on her law license.

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