Judge eyes sanctions on pro-Trump lawyers who claimed voter fraud

WASHINGTON, July 12 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Monday appeared likely to reprimand Sidney Powell, a former campaign lawyer for Donald Trump, and other attorneys over a lawsuit they filed in Michigan seeking to overturn Democratic President Joe Biden's election victory.

U.S. District Judge Linda Parker in Detroit suggested the pro-Trump lawyers should have investigated the Republican former president's voter fraud claims more carefully before suing.

"Should an attorney be sanctioned for his or her failure to withdraw allegations the attorney came to know were untrue?," Parker said during a court hearing via video conference. "Is that sanctionable behavior?"

She said she thought affidavits in the case had been submitted in "bad faith."

Parker held the hearing to determine whether Powell, Lin Wood and other pro-Trump lawyers should be disciplined for a lawsuit they filed last November that made baseless claims of widespread voter fraud in the U.S. presidential election in Michigan.

They are not the only lawyers allied with Trump to land in hot water for supporting his false claims that his election defeat was the result of fraud. New York state and Washington, D.C., in recent weeks suspended former New York City Mayor and Trump confidant Rudy Giuliani's law license after finding he lied in supporting Trump's claims.

Parker dismissed the Michigan lawsuit last December, saying in a written decision that Powell's voter fraud claims were "nothing but speculation and conjecture" and that, in any event, the Texas lawyer waited too long to file her lawsuit.


Parker did not rule during the hearing on whether she would impose judicial sanctions on Powell, of Dallas, and her co-counsel, or refer them to a regulatory body for disbarment proceedings. She said she would issue a written ruling "in due course."

But she spent a large portion of the hearing grilling Powell and the other attorneys on whether they vetted affidavits claiming voter fraud in Michigan before filing them in federal court.

"I don't think I've ever seen an affidavit that makes so many leaps. This is really fantastical," Parker said. "So my question to counsel here is: How could any of you as officers of the court present this affidavit?"

Powell asserted the hundreds of pages of affidavits showed they had conducted due diligence, and that the only way to test them would have been at trial or a hearing on evidence they have gathered. Her co-counsel repeatedly called for such an evidentiary hearing.

Starting in January, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and other government lawyers asked the judge to discipline the pro-Trump lawyers, saying they had filed a frivolous lawsuit full of typos and factual errors and should be held accountable.

"What they filed was an embarrassment to the legal profession," David Fink, a lawyer for the city of Detroit, said during Monday's hearing. "This was a sloppy and careless effort."

Powell represented Trump's campaign when he tried to overturn last Nov. 3's presidential election in the courts. His campaign distanced itself from Powell after she claimed without evidence at a Nov. 19 news conference that electronic voting systems had switched millions of ballots to Biden.

On Nov. 25, a team of lawyers led by Powell filed a lawsuit on behalf of Michigan Republicans alleging rampant voter fraud. They also sought to have Trump named the winner of the Midwestern state's election, giving him Michigan's votes in the U.S. Electoral College, which formally elects the winner of presidential races.

During the hearing, Parker asked Powell and her co-counsel why they did not voluntarily dismiss their Michigan case on Dec. 14 when the Electoral College confirmed Biden's victory.

"Why did the plaintiffs not recognize this lawsuit as moot and dismiss it on that date?," Parker asked.

Donald Campbell, a Michigan attorney representing Powell and the other lawyers, replied that the election was "fluid" and unpredictable and that the pro-Trump legal team believed its lawsuit was still viable after Dec. 14.

Reporting by Jan Wolfe in Washington and David Thomas in Chicago; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.