5th Circuit keeps sanctions against Marc Elias in voting case

A view of the judge's chair in court room 422 of the New York Supreme Court at 60 Centre Street February 3, 2012. Picture taken February 3, 2012. REUTERS/Chip East (UNITED STATES- Tags: CRIME LAW) - GM1E82D13FE01

(Reuters) - The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday that it will not drop sanctions it levied in March against famed Democrat lawyer Marc Elias, but it will vacate sanctions against three other Perkins Coie lawyers who were on his team.

The court had sanctioned Elias, who became a hero of sorts to Democrats in 2020 battling lawsuits filed by Republicans seeking to overturn the results of the U.S. presidential election, and five other Perkins Coie lawyers for lack of candor.

The sanctions stem from a case over straight-ticket voting in Texas, in which Elias and his team represent Democrats fighting in favor of the practice against the state's top election official. The team had filed a supplemental motion in February that was nearly identical to one filed in September that was denied, without disclosing the previous denial.

Elias did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Perkins Coie representative declined to comment.

The Perkins Coie lawyers asked the court to reconsider the sanctions in March. Represented by Paul Clement, a Kirkland & Ellis partner who served as U.S. Solicitor General under Republican former President George W. Bush, they argued their February motion was "not intended to conceal the denial of the initial motion to supplement the record, but reflected good faith misunderstandings."

But the 5th Circuit panel ruled Wednesday that it is "not required to find bad faith when imposing sanctions for violations of local rules."

"Our court’s local rules permit us to discipline 'any member of the bar of this Court for failure to comply with the rules of this Court, or for conduct unbecoming a member of the bar,'" the order said.

Still, it vacated sanctions against half of the lawyers on the team.

It kept sanctions against Elias and partner Bruce Spiva because both have "nearly thirty years' legal experience" and against counsel Skyler Howton because she "was the attorney who signed both the September and February motions to supplement," the order said.

Spiva and Howton did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

One judge on the panel - Judge Catharina Haynes - dissented and said she "would grant reconsideration in full rather than only to the junior attorneys."

Judges Edith Brown Clement and Jennifer Walker Elrod were also on the panel.

The case is Texas Alliance for Retired Americans v. Hughs in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals No. 20-40643.

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Caroline Spiezio covers legal industry news, with a focus on law firms and in-house counsel. She is based in New York. Reach her at Caroline.Spiezio@thomsonreuters.com.