A Detroit federal judge pressed Republican lawyers Monday on whether they personally examined unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in Michigan before attempting to use them to overturn the state’s election.
Beginning at 8:30 a.m., U.S. District Court Judge Linda Parker questioned Sidney Powell of Texas and other attorneys who sought to have former President Donald Trump named Michigan’s winner on whether their assertions “should have been obviously questionable.”
“There is a responsibility, there is a duty that counsel has to ensure that when you’re submitting a sworn statement in support of your case … that you have reviewed it, that you have done some minimal due diligence. And that is what I am getting at,” Parker said.
Monday’s hearing is the latest highlight in a seven-month legal fight that began the day before Thanksgiving when six Republicans filed a lawsuit in Michigan’s Eastern District. Nine lawyers, including national conservative figures Powell and Lin Wood of Georgia, have been involved in the attempt to reverse the election’s result.
All of the nine lawyers appeared in a video conference hearing Monday.
Democrat Joe Biden beat the GOP incumbent by 154,000 votes, or 3 percentage points, in Michigan. A report by the GOP-controlled state Senate, dozens of court rulings, bipartisan boards of canvassers and audits have reinforced the outcome.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, Wayne County voter Robert Davis and the city of Detroit have all asked Parker to levy sanctions, including financial penalties, against the attorneys who represented the six Republicans.
“The conduct of plaintiffs’ counsel in knowingly asserting false and frivolous claims while seeking relief with massive implications for our democracy warrants the strongest possible disciplinary action,” Detroit’s legal team wrote in a January motion.
Parker forced the pro-Trump attorneys to provide more information on claims that were part of dozens of affidavits from individuals who purportedly saw wrongdoing in the election.
One affidavit cited in the case was from Jessica Connarn, an attorney who was at the TCF Center, where Detroit’s absentee ballots were counted. It said “an election poll worker told her (Connarn) that he ‘was being told to change the date on ballots.'” Parker described it as “layers of hearsay.”
The judge mentioned another affidavit from Articia Bomer who was also at TCF Center. Bomer said she believed some “workers were changing votes.” Parker asked if any of the attorneys inquired if Bomer actually saw people change votes. None of the attorneys responded.
“Let the record reflect that no one made the inquiry,” Parker said.
The attorneys attempted to defend their actions, saying they had presented more than 900 pages of evidence and turned to the courts to intervene in an election where their plaintiffs believed there was fraud.
“The Soviets had regular voting. Even Hugo Chavez let you vote for him as many times as you wanted,” said Donald Campbell, the lawyer who represented the pro-Trump attorneys. “That’s not uniquely American. What’s uniquely American is the ability to challenge it.”
One of the attorneys, Julia Haller, who practices in Washington, D.C., said the affidavits in question were in some instances sworn statements submitted as part of other cases. They weren’t included in the Michigan suit in bad faith, Haller said.
“My understanding is for sanctions, which I believe is why we’re here, we’re supposed to be talking about bad faith,” Haller said. “I am simply at a loss.”
But Wood tried to distance himself from the case, saying he wasn’t aware of his involvement until he read a media report about the potential sanctions he faced in Michigan.
“I did not review any of the documents with respect to the complaint,” Wood said. “My name was placed on there. But I had no involvement.”
Wood said he had offered to help Powell as a trial attorney in the election cases but didn’t believe he specifically gave her permission to sign his name as one of the lawyers on the case.
“I can’t imagine that I would have put his name on any pleading without understanding that he had given me permission to do that,” Powell said at one point.
The original lawsuit focused heavily on murky claims about election tabulation software and analyses that attempted to call into question Michigan’s result. The filing also tried to use human errors by election workers in northern Michigan’s Antrim County to question equipment in other areas of the state.
But many pieces of evidence presented in the case were questionable, including an affidavit from an expert named Russell Ramsland, who claimed there were multiple municipalities in Michigan with more than 100% turnout. In fact, there weren’t.
Ramsland said there was 139% in Detroit, a figure later cited by Trump himself. The actual turnout in Detroit was 51%, according to the official results tallied by the City Clerk’s Office.
Parker asked who on the legal team had talked with Ramsland. Powell and Howard Kleinhendler both said they had.
“I spoke with him, and I was comfortable, your honor, that what we were putting before the court was true and correct,” Kleinhendler said.
Parker, who was nominated by President Barack Obama, rejected the challenge on Dec. 7, saying the suit seemed “less about achieving the relief” the GOP plaintiffs sought and “more about the impact of their allegations on people’s faith in the democratic process and their trust in our government.”
Parker said the plaintiffs were seeking judicial action that was “stunning in its scope and breathtaking in its reach.”
“If granted, the relief would disenfranchise the votes of the more than 5.5 million Michigan citizens who, with dignity, hope, and a promise of a voice, participated in the 2020 general election,” the judge said.
Lawyers for Detroit and the state argued that the court should impose penalties to discourage similar litigation in the future. The attorneys for the city of Detroit asked the court to refer the Republicans’ counsel for disbarment proceedings, to institute monetary sanctions, to award legal feels to the city and to require the plaintiffs themselves to post a bond before filing a suit in the future.
Nessel, Michigan’s Democratic attorney general, asked the judge to award attorneys’ fees amounting to $11,071 to the state, contending that the Republicans’ lawyers “pursued legal claims that they knew or should have known were frivolous.”
In February, Stefanie Lambert Junttila, a Michigan attorney working with the GOP plaintiffs, countered that the claims at the center of the case were “supported by hundreds of factual and expert affidavits, as well as substantial documentation.” She has also argued that Nessel’s office had attempted to “chill free speech” in the push for sanctions.
“This litigation abuse is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and the First Amendment — in addition to a bold lack of professional conduct toward opposing counsel,” Lambert Junttila wrote.
Powell is the most well known name among the attorneys facing potential sanctions in Michigan. She appeared with Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, at a press conference in November before the president’s legal team distanced itself from her.
She has been involved in failed election challenges in multiple swing states, describing her legal effort as releasing the “kraken.”