Jenna Ellis makes an impression. Just not usually a very good one.
Whether the Trump campaign’s legal advisor is standing next to a leaking Rudy Giuliani bragging about the Elite Strike Force that will soon overturn the election, or threatening CNN for publishing supposedly defamatory polls, or explaining WHAT IS EVIDENCE to Attorney General Bill Barr, people remember the self-described constitutional law attorney.
So when the New York Times went looking for juicy copy about Doctor Jenna Ellis, JD Esquire, they found plenty.
“I find it astonishing that she’s gotten to this point,” Colorado attorney Stephanie Stout told the Times of the time she worked a case with the president’s attorney. “She just didn’t have the legal chops.”
Craig Silverman, another Colorado lawyer described her as “an attorney of scant accomplishment.”
“When I saw ‘senior legal adviser,’ it was like, ‘Wow,’” Silverman said. “To have a title like that, nobody knew her to be that type of lawyer.”
Because, in point of fact, she wasn’t “that type of lawyer.” Her first legal job was as a prosecutor in rural Weld County, Colorado, after which she spent a few years in private practice doing landlord-tenant and immigration work. All of which is a perfectly honorable way to earn a living, but it’s got nothing to do with constitutional law or complex election litigation.
While Ellis insisted in a written statement to the Times that she’s “a highly experienced and highly qualified attorney and expert in my field,” that qualification appears to have been earned at the esteemed University of Fake It Til You Make It rather than in an actual courtroom.
Here’s what happened when the Times asked the Trump campaign about Ellis’ experience with federal and/or electoral litigation.
The Trump campaign provided the name of one federal case in which it said Ms. Ellis had participated, in 2012, when she was a year out of law school. But her name is not among the lawyers listed in the decision, and the case was not heard in a regular federal court, but rather in an administrative tribunal.
In 2015, just four years out of law school, she self-published a book decrying the decline of American morality in the wake of the Obergefell decision legalizing gay marriage. At the same time, she became an adjunct at Colorado Christian University teaching pre-law to undergrads and advising the moot court team. And thus Jenna Ellis “professor of constitutional law” was born.
In 2018 Ellis moved to the Dobson Policy Institute, part of the evangelical Focus on the Family organization, where she dispensed home truths to soothe nation’s soul. Like saying that gay and bisexual men suffer higher rates of HIV because “we cannot escape God’s moral law and His supremacy.” And calling New York City’s Stonewall Inn “a national monument to our open embrace and celebration of sin.”
This gross homophobia only served to advance her standing with the conservative firmament. Soon she was writing columns for the Washington Examiner and doing hits on Fox News, which is how she came to Trump’s attention in 2018 and wound up working for the campaign the following year.
It’s a living, alright. But it’s not exactly preparation to manage complex litigation in multiple federal and state jurisdictions. Which might go some way to explaining the Trump campaign’s spectacular failure in every court in the land. Marc Elias she ain’t.
But the best defense is a good offense, that’s Jenna Ellis’s motto. Apparently.
Note that she doesn’t deny any particular statement in Jeremy W. Peters and Alan Feuer’s article. But she does attack her former colleagues and the “fake news media.” Because Jenna Ellis may be an unqualified hack, but as a Mean Girl, she’s unbeatable.
How Is Trump’s Lawyer Jenna Ellis ‘Elite Strike Force’ Material? [NYT]
Elizabeth Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.
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