Lawyer for rival firm among lawmakers accuses Sidley Austin of aiding illegal abortions

Signage is seen outside the law firm Sidley Austin in their legal offices in Washington. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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(Reuters) – A Texas lawmaker who is part of a legislative caucus that last week accused the Sidley Austin law firm of appearing to be “complicit in illegal abortions” is a lawyer employed by another major law firm American, state bar records and his legislative counsel. website show.

Representative Cody Vasut is of counsel in the Houston office of BakerHostetler, an Ohio-based firm with approximately 1,000 attorneys nationwide. Vasut is also one of 11 state lawmakers in the Texas Freedom Caucus, who said he would introduce legislation making law firms criminally liable and requiring the disbarment of Texas lawyers who help pay for abortions or abortion trips.

The caucus said in a July 7 letter to Sidley that the Chicago-based company “may have aided or abetted drug-induced abortions” in violation of Texas law and warned him to keep all relevant records in anticipation of being prosecuted.

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Vasut and Texas Freedom Caucus Chairman’s Representative Mayes Middleton did not respond to requests for comment on the letter, which was posted on the group’s website. A spokesperson for Sidley did not respond to requests for comment on the letter.

BakerHostetler told Reuters on Tuesday that Vasut’s political activity was unrelated to the company. “His affiliation with the Texas Freedom Caucus is personal and solely related to his legislative role,” said cabinet chairman Paul Schmidt.

Eleven female BakerHostetler attorneys, including 10 partners, were signatories to an open letter first published in The American Lawyer last month denouncing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which struck down the US constitutional right to abortion.

After the ruling, which left the regulation and criminalization of abortion to individual states, several major law firms, including Sidley, joined major corporations in promising to cover travel expenses for U.S. employees who could no longer obtain abortions in states restricting or prohibiting the procedure. Texas is among the states that implemented abortion bans after the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy was overturned.

Sidley is the only law firm the caucus publicly named in its letter, raising potential litigation and other consequences for allegedly violating abortion bans. The letter did not state why she chose the company.

Other major law firms with offices in Texas, such as Vinson & Elkins and McDermott Will & Emery, also offer abortion travel benefits to staff, Reuters reported. Both Sidley and BakerHostetler have offices in Dallas and Houston, serving clients in the energy and other industries.

A spokesperson for BakerHostetler did not say whether the company offered similar benefits.

Bruce Green, a professor of legal ethics at Fordham University School of Law, told Reuters that a law directing a Texas court to remove lawyers for facilitating abortion “would create a constitutional issue of the state on the question whether the legislature encroaches on the authority of the judiciary”. The court system regulates the conduct of lawyers. Green added that he had never seen such a proposal before.

Vasut represents oil, gas and energy companies in litigation, according to the BakerHostetler website. The company also lists him as a board member of the Brazosport Pregnancy Support Center, an organization that guides women with unplanned pregnancies through childbirth. He also sits on the foundation board of the Brazoria County Bar Association, one of the counties he represents in the Legislative Assembly.

Other members of the Texas Freedom Caucus are also attorneys, but do not appear to work for corporate law firms. State Rep. Matt Krause spent nearly five years as an attorney with Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit anti-abortion legal group that has argued in court on behalf of conservative Christian causes. He left this role in 2012.

Another member, Rep. Briscoe Cain, is the Texas attorney for the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. Last year, the group presented her with an award for her work on a Texas law that bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Cain and Krause did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Read more:

Texas lawmakers target law firms for making abortion easier

Major US law firms begin offering abortion travel benefits after Dobbs decision

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Jacqueline Thomson

Thomson Reuters

Washington, DC-based Jacqueline Thomsen covers legal news related to politics, the courts, and the legal profession. Follow her on Twitter at @jacq_thomsen and email her at [email protected]

Denise W. Whigham