Judge declines to sanction lawyer Sidney Powell in Wisconsin 2020 election case

Attorney Sidney Powell speaks at a press conference on election results in Alpharetta, Georgia, U.S., December 2, 2020. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
  • Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers sought $106,000 in legal fees
  • Powell is facing ethics charges over several lawsuits contesting 2020 election

Aug 25 (Reuters) - A Wisconsin federal judge on Thursday denied a request by the state's governor to sanction conservative lawyer Sidney Powell over one of her lawsuits alleging fraud in the 2020 election, leaving the state to cover its own legal fees in the case.

U.S. District Judge Pamela Pepper in Milwaukee ruled that she no longer had jurisdiction over the case, and that sanctions would not be appropriate because she had quickly dismissed Powell's lawsuit before delving into the merits of her claims.

Powell and a team of other lawyers sued Wisconsin officials on behalf of two Republicans in December 2020, alleging without providing direct evidence that Democrat Joe Biden's election win in the state was tainted by fraud. The lawsuit was one of a series filed by Powell in an unsuccessful bid to challenge the 2020 election results in multiple courts.

Pepper dismissed the Wisconsin lawsuit within days on procedural grounds, finding that she could not overturn the election results. The plaintiffs appealed but dropped the challenge after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, in March 2021 moved for Powell’s legal team to pay $106,000 in attorney fees in the case, alleging the opposing lawyers violated a federal statute against “vexatiously” multiplying proceedings in a case. Evers also argued that the court should use its inherent authority to sanction the attorneys.

Powell's legal team opposed the bid, arguing it was too late to seek attorneys' fees.

Pepper said Thursday that even if she still had jurisdiction over the case, she would not order sanctions under the vexatious litigation statute because of how quickly the case moved through her court.

A spokesperson for Evers, Powell and other attorneys behind the lawsuit did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Another federal judge in Wisconsin last year declined a similar bid by Evers to sanction attorneys for former President Donald Trump in a separate election lawsuit, also finding that he did not have jurisdiction.

Powell and other lawyers behind the Wisconsin lawsuit were sanctioned last year by a Michigan federal judge over a similar election challenge.

Powell was scheduled to be deposed in Texas Thursday in connection with ethics charges she is facing from attorney disciplinary authorities there over her repeated 2020 election lawsuits.

Read more:

'Profound abuse': Judge disciplines pro-Trump lawyers over election lawsuit

Texas bar fights Sidney Powell's bid to toss ethics case

Reporting by Jacqueline Thomsen

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Jacqueline Thomsen, based in Washington, D.C., covers legal news related to policy, the courts and the legal profession. Follow her on Twitter at @jacq_thomsen and email her at jacqueline.thomsen@thomsonreuters.com.