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Ex-Trump lawyers ask Sixth Circuit to throw out sanctions order

Sidney Powell and her colleagues could face disbarment for filing meritless election fraud suits.

CINCINNATI (CN) — Attorney Sidney Powell and other members of the legal team that pushed debunked election fraud claims in the weeks following the 2020 presidential election fought to avoid disbarment and other sanctions at the Sixth Circuit on Thursday, arguing erroneous claims in a late-filed Michigan case were unintentional.

Powell represented herself at the hearing early Thursday afternoon, accompanied by counsel for her fellow “Kraken” lawyers Lin Wood, Emily Newman and Stefanie Juntilla, and opposed by attorneys representing the state of Michigan and city of Detroit. 

The former Trump campaign lawyers are seeking to overturn sanctions imposed by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan for filing frivolous suits and vexatiously multiplying proceedings, which included referrals to their states’ bar associations to be investigated for suspension or disbarment, alongside a hefty fine and mandatory legal education. 

The “Kraken” is a name coined by Powell to describe a constellation of suits she and her team “released” in the last week of November 2020, each proposing a number of voter-fraud theories and requesting that the forum states’ electors be required to vote for Donald Trump. The suits were roundly dismissed, and a number of disciplinary actions followed for Powell and her cohort, especially after the now-infamous Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

In Michigan, Powell and her team voluntarily dismissed their suit on Jan. 14, over a week after Congress certified Joe Biden’s presidential victory at the besieged Capitol.

Michigan Assistant Attorney General Heather Meingast and attorney David Fink of the firm Fink Bressack, representing Detroit, told a panel of Sixth Circuit judges at Thursday’s hearing that that move was too little, far too late. Powell's team had filed a motion opposing dismissal as recently as Jan. 5, and knew or should have known that the claims on which they based their complaint had already been debunked in an earlier Michigan court decision. 

“On the next day, we saw the outcome,” he added, nodding to the Capitol siege. 

Powell and her team, Fink argued, knew the Eastern District of Michigan would not and could not grant the relief they sought, and instead were showboating in an effort to undermine confidence in the election.

“They couldn’t get what they asked for. They couldn’t achieve anything, because they were filing so late,” Fink said. “But what they could do is send a message to the world that there was something wrong in Detroit…. It was serving a purpose that was extrajudicial.” 

Powell objected to the claim that the affidavits and complaints the “Kraken” team filed contained lies or misrepresentations.

“Were there some mistakes made? Yes there were, but they were unintentional,” she told the panel. 

While arguing against the idea that sanctions were necessary, Powell also gestured to the possibility of falling on her sword to save her colleagues.

“If anyone was the driving force behind this lawsuit, it was me,” she said.

She also argued that she, Newman and Wood should not be held accountable for allegations provided in sworn affidavits.

“Surely a lawyer, in good faith, can rely on sworn affidavits,” she said. 

The panel – comprised of U.S. Circuit Judges Danny Boggs, a Ronald Reagan appointee, and Raymond Kethledge and Helene White, appointees of George W. Bush – treated Powell’s arguments with palpable skepticism but were slightly more accommodating to her colleagues.

White in particular peppered Powell with questions about why she’d waited so long to file the suit and why, instead of seeking overturn of the electoral votes, she hadn’t simply sought a recount. 

“That was not part of what our clients wanted us to do,” Powell replied. “We represented the electors, who wanted to raise the issues of fraud.” 

When Powell said she had waited “only three weeks” after the election to file suit, White noted that “only three weeks, when you’re dealing with an election, is a long time.” 

When it came to some of the other “Kraken” attorneys – including one, Juntilla, whose involvement chiefly involved fighting sanctions and appealing the Eastern District’s denial of the rogue electors’ request for injunctive relief – the panel expressed a little more skepticism as to their culpability.

Wood’s attorney, Paul Stablein, argued that the only evidence of his client’s involvement was his name on the complaint.

“There is no evidence that he had any responsibility for it, that he had any understanding about what the allegations were in the complaint,” Stablein said. 

Boggs took issue with that argument.

“What about the tweets?” the judge asked, pointing to a series of social media posts in which Wood identified himself with the suits. “He seems to be more than taking responsibility – one could say he was even boasting, perhaps.” 

Stablein pointed out that the tweets did not include admissions that his client was working on the suits as an attorney, and argued that merely slapping his name on a complaint was not enough to make his client responsible for its contents. 

The panel raised similar concerns about Fink’s arguments against Juntilla and against Newman, who had not signed the complaint but provided some of the debunked affidavits.

“She allowed her name to be put on it, and that’s an endorsement of the lawsuit,” Fink said of Juntilla’s appellate work. Her involvement in “intentionally dragging the case out,” too, was sufficient to warrant sanctions, he said.

Powell already faces potential disbarment in her home state of Texas, and voting-machine maker Dominion has sued her for defamation, seeking billions in damages. Wood has continued filing suits casting doubt on election integrity, most recently in Georgia. 

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