Lawyer Files Ethics Complaint Over ‘Appalachian Inbreeding’ Remarks

A North Carolina law professor has filed an ethics complaint against the Washington, D.C. law firm that insinuated inbreeding was responsible for birth defects in Appalachia. The law firm made the comments while trying to refute a study connecting mountaintop removal to birth defect rates.

Law firm Crowell and Moring raised several issues with the study’s methodology, including that the authors failed to account for consanguinity—or inbreeding—which can also cause birth defects.

Now, the Washington D.C. Office of Bar Counsel could be looking into the claims. Charlotte School of Law Assistant Professor Jason Huber filed a formal ethics complaint against the attorneys. He says the firm made the deceptive statement in an attempt to get business from the coal industry, which is against ethical standards.

“It is not fair and it is misleading when you attempt to mask the economic, epidemiological and environmental consequences of mountaintop removal by degrading the Appalachian people through casting them as inbred hillbillies,” Huber said.

If the Office of Bar Counsel determines the lawyers ran afoul of the rules, punishment could range from a reprimand to disbarment.

In a statement, a Crowell and Moring spokesperson said the complaint lacks merit:

“The complaint seeks to convert routine scientific debate into an ethical issue, and it is baseless. Our client alert identified several scientific considerations relevant to birth defect studies. We regret that Mr. Huber has chosen to revisit this issue long after we withdrew the communication and apologized for any offense it may have caused in July.”