WICHITA, Kan. (CN) – A federal judge slapped Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach with a $1,000-fine Friday for misleading the court about the nature of the documents he was holding while photographed at a November meeting with President Donald Trump.
The front page of the documents, widely scrutinized after the Associated Press published the photo, referenced possible changes to national voter laws.
The ruling comes from the ongoing class action voting rights lawsuit Fish v. Kobach, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Kansas. The lawsuit alleges that Kansas law requiring voters to show proof of citizenship documents such as birth certificates violates the National Voter Registration Act.
Kobach, an architect of anti-immigration and voter ID laws, argues that the law seeks to reduce voter fraud. The ACLU contends that the law targets minority voters who are less likely to have such documents and more likely to vote Democrat.
Kobach fought to keep the documents out of the hands of the ACLU, stating that they contained privileged information. According to U.S. Magistrate Judge James O’Hara’s ruling, Kobach purposely misled the court about the nature of the documents.
“In response to the motion (to produce the documents), defendant made patently misleading representations to the court about the documents, which at the time had not been produced to either the court or plaintiffs, such that the court was required to take defendant at his word,” O’Hara wrote.
For example, Kobach claimed that the documents did not propose amendments to the NVRA, when in fact they suggested changing the types of verification states could require from voters, according to O’Hara.
Doug Bonney, chief counsel and legal director of the ACLU of Kansas, said the ruling was very clear about Kobach’s misleading arguments.
“If you look at it, Judge O’Hara perfectly worded the warning he gives the attorneys,” Bonney said.
That warning reads, “As officers of the court, defense counsel have a duty of candor to the court and to opposing counsel. Justice requires that all involved in our legal system work to ensure that a true and accurate picture of the facts is presented to the court. This means that parties and their attorneys must respond to discovery fairly and accurately, and that counsel assert only arguments that are supported by facts.”
Bonney said the ACLU is now hoping the court will partially or fully rule in its favor without the case going to trial. Kobach is scheduled to offer his deposition on July 5.
After the ACLU successfully sued for the documents, Kobach handed them over but marked them as “confidential.” While O’Hara’s ruling does not lift that confidential status, he notes that the documents could become judicial records, which are easier to make public.
A call to Kobach’s spokeswoman Samantha Poetter for comment was not immediately returned.