ANNAPOLIS — A Maryland judge ordered the state bar to open an investigation Monday into the three lawyers who helped former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to delete her private emails.
Circuit Judge Paul F. Harris Jr. said the complaints lodged against David E. Kendall, Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson were “egregious” and said the state bar couldn’t brush them aside by calling them “frivolous.”
“There are allegations of destroying evidence,” Judge Harris said at a hearing Monday morning, where he said the state’s rules require the bar to conduct investigations no matter who raises the complaint, and can’t brush accusations aside.
The complaint was brought by Ty Clevenger, a lawyer who has pursued sanctions against Mrs. Clinton and her legal team in several venues, and who is also pressing the FBI to release details of its investigation into the former top diplomat.
Bars in Arkansas and the District of Columbia, as well as federal courts, had brushed aside requests from Mr. Clevenger, who is seeking to have the lawyers suspended or disbarred.
But Judge Harris said Mr. Clevenger’s request “appears to have merit,” and Maryland will now have to at least launch an investigation and demand a response from the lawyers, Mr. Clevenger said.
Mrs. Clinton, who begins a book tour Tuesday, used a secret email account tied to a server she kept at her home in New York to conduct her official business while in the State Department. The arrangement was against department policy, and the FBI said it risked national security, but declined to recommend charges because the bureau said Mrs. Clinton was too inept to understand the risks she was running.
After the arrangement was spotted, Mrs. Clinton belatedly returned thousands of emails back to the government, then deleted the rest, claiming they were personal. The FBI’s probe, though, found thousands that were work-related but weren’t turned over.
Mrs. Clinton had her lawyers do the scouring of her account, and that is what’s landed them in potential jeopardy.
Maryland’s Attorney Grievance Commission had tried to sideline Mr. Clevenger last year, arguing he had “no personal knowledge of the allegations” so they weren’t going to investigate.
On Monday Alexis Rohde, a lawyer representing the grievance commission, went further, saying they have already determined the complaint is “frivolous.” But said she was bound by confidentiality rules that prevented her from explaining why.
“Because all these complaints are confidential, I’m unable to put that before the court,” she said.
Judge Harris rejected that explanation, saying this was the first time the commission had used the term “frivolous” to explain its decision. He also said the rules were clear that the commission needed to investigate.
“I just think this is a rather easy decision at this point,” he said. “The court is ordering bar counsel to investigate.”