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After months of testimony, John Eastman mounts his defense in State Bar trial

A man enters the State Bar of California building in Los Angeles, Tuesday, June 20, 2023. John Eastman, a former lawyer of Donald Trump is expected to spend the day testifying before the State Bar of California in a proceeding that could result in him losing his license to practice law in the state. He faces 11 disciplinary charges stemming from his development of a dubious legal strategy that was aimed at helping Trump remain in power by disrupting the counting of state electoral votes. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
John Eastman has begun mounting his defense in his trial before the State Bar of California that will determine whether he will lose his law license. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Intermittently since June, John Eastman has appeared in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom as lawyers for the California Bar build the case that he is unfit to practice law.

Eastman, the former dean of Chapman University's law school and advisor to former President Trump, is accused of ethics violations for peddling false claims that fraud cost Trump the presidency.

Eastman maintains that he had a good-faith basis to doubt the results of the 2020 election. The man Eastman called as his first witness last week, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, has asserted the election was stolen, though his own turmoil-racked inquiry turned up no proof that fraud tilted the election to Joe Biden.

The witness, Michael Gableman, admitted he had no experience with election law when the Republican leader of the Wisconsin Assembly picked him in 2021 to lead a taxpayer-funded investigation into the election. Gableman has also admitted that he did not have “any understanding of how elections work.”

His 14-month inquiry turned into a debacle, costing taxpayers more than $1 million and drawing bipartisan derision. The report he produced alleged illegalities in the Wisconsin election, though Biden’s 21,000-vote victory in the state has withstood multiple court challenges, a recount and a nonpartisan audit.

Read more: John Eastman's bar trial resumes, a week after he was indicted with Trump and others

In his report and in his State Bar testimony, Gableman dwelled on grant money Wisconsin municipalities had received from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The money was intended to facilitate voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and much of it went to Wisconsin’s five biggest cities — often referred to as “the Zuckerberg 5” in Gableman’s report — in areas that lean Democratic.

Gableman’s report characterized it as a scheme to get Democrats elected and called it election bribery. However, the Center for Tech and Civic Life said it awarded grants to all election offices that applied, amounting to more than 200 across Wisconsin, large and small. And federal courts have repeatedly ruled that the grants did not break the law.

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, shown in 2022.
Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, shown in 2022, testified last week on behalf of John Eastman at his California State Bar trial. (Kayla Wolf / Associated Press)

Cross-examining Gableman last week in Eastman’s trial, Duncan Carling, an attorney representing the California State Bar, asked Gableman if there had been any successful legal challenges to the CTCL grants.

“Not yet,” Gableman replied.

Was he aware of any court findings that the Center for Tech and Civic Life grants violated any Wisconsin law?

“Not yet,” Gableman repeated.

Did Gableman find proof that Wisconsin voting machines had been manipulated for purposes of fraud?

“If I had found it, I would have put it in my report,” he said.

Among his other claims, Gableman asserted that Wisconsin lacked safeguards to prevent noncitizens from voting. Did he find evidence that noncitizens had in fact voted, he was asked?

Read more: Pence lawyer says Eastman's push to reject electors left him 'offended for my profession'

“It was impossible for us to conduct that investigation,” Gableman said, claiming his inquiry had been curtailed by politics.

In Wisconsin, controversy plagued Gableman’s partisan election review from start to finish. Contributing to its costs: about $260,000 spent on court-ordered legal fees in connection with lawsuits brought by a liberal watchdog group. At one point, Gableman refused to answer questions in a Wisconsin circuit court, and the judge held him in contempt for flouting the state’s open records law.

Gableman’s manner in Eastman's State Bar trial drew more than one reprimand from Judge Yvette Roland. Once, she warned him to avoid a “diatribe.” Another time, she said, “Don’t interrupt me, and don’t roll your eyes. … If anyone knows how to comport himself in a courtroom, it should be you.”

Eastman’s lawyer argued to have Gableman admitted as an expert on election law. Roland ruled that he had no such expertise.

Eastman’s livestreamed trial has been underway, off and on, all summer, and he will continue putting on his defense Tuesday. The threat of disbarment is not his only worry. Along with Trump and 17 others, Eastman faces criminal charges in Fulton County, Ga., for election-related schemes.

Eastman has a GiveSendGo page, where he posts updates on his State Bar trial and blames “hard core leftist activists” for targeting him. The page says he has raised $525,250, with a goal of $750,000.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.