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Trump lawyers sanctioned for filing frivolous election lawsuit in Michigan

The former president’s attorneys argued the 2020 election was rigged but repeatedly failed to produce tangible evidence to support their claims.

DETROIT (CN) — Attorneys who represented former President Trump during his quest to overturn the 2020 presidential election were hit with sanctions late Wednesday from a Michigan federal judge who did not close the door on additional punishment.

Lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood are the most well-known names in a group of lawyers who helped litigate the election in the Wolverine State in order to discredit President Joe Biden and his victory over Trump.

In a scathing opinion issued Wednesday night, U.S. District Judge Linda V. Parker ordered Powell, Wood and others to pay legal fees for the city of Detroit and any others that defended against the election lawsuit. They will also be required to take 12 hours of training — including six hours focused on election law — in the next six months. 

Parker, a Barack Obama appointee, also ordered her sanctions be sent to the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission and similar associations that have the power to disbar or otherwise punish the attorneys. 

“The attorneys who filed the instant lawsuit abused well-established rules applicable to the litigation process by proffering claims not backed by law; proffering claims not backed by evidence (but instead, speculation, conjecture and unwarranted suspicion)…and dragging out these proceedings even after they acknowledged that it was too late to attain the relief sought,” the judge wrote.

She added, “This case was never about fraud—it was about undermining the people’s faith in our democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so.”

Last month, Parker presided over a contentious hearing for sanctions over the unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the presidential election.

Wood was upset that he was even in the hearing, arguing the motion for sanctions filed by Detroit and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. He also said he would obtain separate counsel to assist him.

“The evidence will show that there is no factual basis on which this court can sanction me,” Wood said.

He became argumentative with Parker when he tried to get an extended response deadline to hire another lawyer and review transcripts from the hearing, and grew angrier when the judge said he could not address remarks from David Fink, the lawyer for Detroit.

Parker blasted Wood’s actions in Wednesday's order and said he never objected to his name being on the motion for sanctions filed back in January.

“No reasonable attorney would sit back silently if her or her name were listed as counsel in a case if permission to do so had not been given,” she wrote.

Attorney Sidney Powell speaks during a rally in Alpharetta, Ga., in December 2020. (Ben Margot/AP)

Parker also had little patience for attorneys on the fringes of the case who said punishments were not applicable to them.

Local attorney Emily Newman claimed she did not work enough hours on the case to be disciplined, but Parker said Newman cited no case law to back her assertion.

The judge also said attorney Gregory Rohl’s contention that he only read the 830-page pleading the day of the filing “does not fly” and said she found it hard to believe it took him only about an hour to read it.

“Rohl’s argument in and of itself reveals sanctionable conduct,” Parker wrote.

In the July hearing, Michigan attorney Donald Campbell, representing Powell, said the litigation was simply a part of the system of checks and balances.

“It’s this system of voting, counting and challenging that the public can draw confidence from. This lawsuit was an opportunity to challenge if the election was performed correctly,” he said. “The facts are that folks doubted this election.”

The judge took exception to the allegations that state election laws were violated at the TCF Center in Detroit on election night and wondered if anyone did any research.  

An amended complaint alleged that passengers in cars were illegally dropping off more ballots than there were people in the car, but Parker said that anyone could have easily consulted Michigan law to see that people are allowed to drop off the ballots of family members.  

Parker also rejected claims that the ballots were run through tabulation machines multiple times for nefarious reasons and cited an affidavit from a city clerk adviser to make her point.

“The affidavit of Christopher Thomas…explained that ballots are often fed through the high-speed reader more than once as a routine part of the tabulation process. And he detailed a number of reasons why this may be necessary,” the judge wrote.

Whitmer, a Democrat, applauded the sanctions order Wednesday night.

“Today, democracy won. After the 2020 election where Americans voted in record numbers, the outgoing president, his allies, and his enablers pushed the Big Lie—that the election was stolen, that our system didn’t work, that American democracy was fraudulent," the governor said in a statement.

 She added, “While the mob on January 6th physically assaulted our democracy, Sidney Powell and other lawyers continued to do so in our courts. The courts rejected all of them. Today’s ruling sends a clear message: those who seek to overturn an American election and poison the well of American democracy will face consequences.” 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel echoed that sentiment in a statement.

“I’m pleased to see that the court has ensured there is accountability for the attorneys who perpetuated meritless arguments in court. It has remained abundantly clear from the outset that this lawsuit aimed to do nothing more than undermine our democratic process," she said. "I appreciate the unmistakable message [Judge Parker] sends with this ruling — those who vow to uphold the Constitution must answer for abandoning that oath.”

Fink, the lawyer for Detroit, told the Detroit Free Press that the ruling should help prevent baseless litigation in the future. 

“Judge Parker’s ruling creates an important and powerful disincentive to attorneys who are thinking about filing these types of frivolous lawsuits. They’re going to have to pay attorney fees they cause and they’ll be at risk of losing their license," he said. 

Follow Andy Olesko on Twitter

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