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Federal judge sanctions Sidney Powell, Kraken team over election case

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Attorneys allied with former President Donald Trump who tried to use a conspiracy-laden lawsuit to overturn Michigan’s election results have received federal sanctions from a judge in Michigan and could face a host of other disciplinary measures.

The attorneys must also pay legal fees for the city of Detroit and others that defended against the lawsuit and take 12 hours of training — including six hours focused on election law — in the next six months. 

The punishments foreshadow far more potentially devastating problems for Sidney Powell, Lin Wood and a cadre of other attorneys who used their so-called “Kraken” lawsuit to push a false claim that an international cabal worked to steal the election away from Trump in Michigan and several other states. 

In addition to harshly chastising the attorneys who filed the suit in her ruling, U.S. District Judge Linda Parker ordered her sanctions be sent to the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission and similar associations around the country. Other courts and state bar associations have the capacity to disbar or otherwise punish these attorneys. 

“The attorneys who filed the instant lawsuit abused the 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); proffering factual allegations and claims without engaging in the required prefiling inquiry; and dragging out these proceedings even after they acknowledged that it was too late to attain the relief sought,” wrote Parker in a 110-page opinion, issued Wednesday. 

“And 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.”

‘Master class on making conjectural leaps’

Parker used essentially every inch of the ruling to explain why Powell and her team violated all ethical and moral standards of the legal profession.

The attorneys conducted no due diligence in checking the veracity of any of the affidavits, none of which showed fraud. Instead, the affidavits were full of innuendo and “seemingly sinister language” that did not deliver on the promise of election misconduct. 

Parker called one affidavit a “master class on making conjectural leaps and bounds,” stating it was worthless because “a document containing the lengthy musings of one dog walker after encountering a ‘smiling, laughing’ couple delivering bags of unidentified items in no way serves as evidence that state laws were violated or that fraud occurred.”

She also took aim at an affidavit filed in a separate lawsuit by Mellissa Carone, a contract employee who worked at the TCF Center in Detroit on election night. Carone’s testimony before a state legislative committee alongside Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was later spoofed on “Saturday Night Live.” 

Parker said Carone’s affidavit demonstrated “no misconduct or malfeasance, and amount(ed) to no more than strained and disjointed innuendo of something sinister.”

The fact Powell and her team took these affidavits from other lawsuits and never spoke with the people who actually allege fraud was baffling, Parker said. The Kraken team previously tried to defend its actions in part by claiming First Amendment free speech protections while stating journalists routinely cite sources that are unnamed in stories. 

“Attorneys are not journalists. It therefore comes as no surprise that Plaintiffs’ attorneys fail to cite a single case suggesting that the two professions share comparable duties and responsibilities,” Parker wrote. 

“Perhaps this confused understanding as to the job of an attorney, and what the law says about the attendant duties and obligations, is what led plaintiffs’ counsel to simply copy and paste affidavits from prior lawsuits. Perhaps not. But what is certain is that plaintiffs’ counsel will not escape accountability for their failure to conduct due diligence before recycling affidavits from other cases to support their pleadings here.” 

All of these actions were seemingly driven by the bias and belief that Trump must be president, Parker wrote. 

“In other words, by failing to take the basic pre-filing steps that any reasonable attorney would have taken and by flouting well-established pleading standards — all while knowing the risk associated with failing to remain professionally skeptical, plaintiffs’ counsel did everything in their power to ensure that their bias — that the election was fraudulent, as proclaimed by Former President Trump — was confirmed,” Parker wrote. 

In closing, she cited the attorney’s desire to proceed with these legal claims despite obvious prejudice and the dangers such claims pose to the country. Parker specifically cited the insurrection on Jan. 6, “and the dangers posed by narratives like the one counsel crafted here.” 

“An attorney who willingly continues to assert claims doomed to fail, and which have incited violence before, must be deemed to be acting with an improper motive,” Parker wrote. 

More:Will sanctioning Sidney Powell in Michigan prevent the next Big Lie lawsuit?

More:‘The people have spoken’: Michigan judge rejects lawsuit from disavowed Trump attorney

Attorneys for Michigan, Detroit pleased with ruling

The original lawsuit, filed in November, asked Parker to force Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to overturn election results showing President Joe Biden won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes. Parker ruled against Powell in an early motion, essentially derailing the case in December. 

Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and the city of Detroit soon thereafter called on Parker to punish Powell and her team, arguing the attorneys acted with reckless disregard for the truth by filing a lawsuit they knew sought to undermine faith in democracy. 

Attorneys working for Nessel also pointed to a filing by Powell’s attorneys in a defamation case brought by election equipment manufacturer Dominion Voting Systems. Powell’s attorney argued in that case that her comments about Dominion rigging the election were opinion, and that “no reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact.”

In a statement, Nessel thanked Parker for her ruling. 

“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,” Nessel said.

“I appreciated Judge Parker’s thoroughness in the hearing last month, and I appreciate the unmistakable message she sends with this ruling — those who vow to uphold the Constitution must answer for abandoning that oath.”

David Fink, an attorney representing the city of Detroit, said the ruling was gratifying and set an important precedent. 

“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,” Fink said. 

“It’s a tremendous relief after months of litigation to see such a strong message and I hope this message goes beyond teaching attorneys not to bring such frivolous lawsuits. I hope it also sends a message that there was no factual basis for this lawsuit and the big lie has been refuted.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called the ruling a win for democracy.” 

“While the mob on January 6th physically assaulted our democracy, Sidney Powell and other lawyers continued to do so in our courts. They launched dozens of lawsuits, exploiting the legal system to undermine a free and fair election. The courts rejected all of them,” Whitmer said in a statement. 

“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.”

Powell and her colleagues previously argued they could have proven their claims in court if given the chance, Parker had no authority or cause to punish them and any sanctions could have a chilling effect on election lawsuits in the future.

More:Federal judge grills Sidney Powell’s legal team in Michigan elections sanctions case

More:Sidney Powell’s attorney: Whitmer, Nessel misleading the public about ex-Trump counselor

There is very little recourse for Powell and her team to fight these sanctions, John Pirich, a professor at the Michigan State University School of Law, previously told the Free Press. But Edward Foley, an election law professor at Ohio State University, is not optimistic sanctions will stave off similar lawsuits after future elections. 

“So our capacity to deal with this Big Lie-type phenomenon has got to go beyond the judicial system and sanctioning of lawyers,” Foley told the Free Press in July. It’s about “how we hold elected politicians accountable to integrity and the truth.” 

The Kraken team’s case against sanctions

Parker could have avoided issuing sanctions, but appeared to telegraph her displeasure with Powell and her team during a July hearing in the case. She repeatedly asked the attorneys whether they conducted any due diligence in verifying specific and easily debunked allegations in their lawsuit. 

Powell and her associates argued they were not given the chance to prove their claims in court and the veracity of the affidavits is not a punishable offense. 

More:Attorneys point to Trump’s fraud claims in making case for avoiding sanctions

More:Sidney Powell team doubles down on debunked election claims in attempt to avoid sanctions

Attorney Lin Wood, member of President Donald Trump's legal team, gestures while speaking during a rally on Friday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Powell, Wood and others filed similar lawsuits across the nation. Each suit essentially alleged that bad actors worked to modify vote counts across the country, using various and complicated methods. More specifically, it alleged the election equipment manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems was crafted by confederates of the deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and was subsequently manipulated to favor Biden over Trump. 

Although the lawsuit contained hundreds of signed affidavits from people purportedly backing up Powell’s claims, the allegations were generally quickly debunked by election experts, reviewing administrative procedure for elections and, at times, Googling. 

More:Election lawsuit cites fraud in Michigan county that does not exist

More:Michigan was a hotbed for election-related misinformation: Here are 17 key fact checks

For example, the lawsuit alleged fraud in Edison County, that thousands of ballots in Detroit were double counted and that voter turnout in some counties exceeded 100%.There is no Edison County in Michigan and no county reported voter turnout above 100%. A cursory review of poll books would have easily alerted Detroit officials to the double counting of ballots in the city; Trump also earned more votes from heavily Democratic Detroit in 2020 than he did in 2016. 

The sanctions process was markedly contentious. Fink repeatedly blasted Powell and her team, characterizing their lawsuit as the spawn of internet rabbit holes.  

“This lawsuit is the dangerous product of an online feedback loop, with these attorneys citing ‘legal precedent’ derived not from a serious analysis of case law, but from the rantings of conspiracy theorists sharing amateur analysis and legal fantasy in their social media echo chamber,” Fink wrote in one filing. 

More:Detroit: Election lawsuit a ‘legal fantasy’ spawned from ‘social media echo chamber’

More:Attorneys point to Trump’s fraud claims in making case for avoiding sanctions

In turn, Donald Campbell, an attorney representing Powell and several of the other attorneys in the lawsuit, chastised Fink, and, at times, the judge. He said Fink wanted to suppress legitimate concerns of voters and that the judge ignored the rules of her court by even considering sanctions. 

“Nazi Germany had plebiscites, the Soviets had regular voting, even Hugo Chávez let you vote for him as many times as you wanted. That’s not uniquely American. What’s uniquely American is the ability to challenge it, to address that and to petition to this court,” Campbell said during a July hearing. 

More:Lin Wood tells judge he can’t be sanctioned, never ‘broadcast’ video against court rules

More:Lin Wood may face punishment after sharing clip of Michigan election sanctions hearing

Wood, one of the nation’s most outspoken Trump truthers, both argued he had no role in the case and created additional evidence to support sanctions in the span of several hours in July. 

He told Parker he essentially did not know about the lawsuit until he read media reports saying he could be sanctioned. But Fink pointed out that Wood’s name appeared on several filings, and Wood acknowledged he’d offered to help Powell with some of her lawsuits. 

Powell said she and her attorney, Howard Kleinhendler, spearheaded the crafting of the original lawsuit and the other attorneys played little role in the case. Wood took a recording of a portion of her comments, made during a federal court hearing, and shared it on a social media platform called Telegram. 

Local federal court rules prohibit broadcasting proceedings. In response to a complaint, Parker asked Wood to justify why he shared the clip in the first place. Wood defended his actions by again arguing Parker should not punish him and that sharing a link to a video technically did not meet the definition of the word “broadcast.” That’s inaccurate. 

Contact Dave Boucher: dboucher@freepress.com or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.

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