A federal judge is considering whether to order financial penalties or other sanctions against some of former President Donald Trump's lawyers who signed onto a lawsuit last year challenging Michigan's election results.
U.S. District Judge Linda Parker in Detroit held a six-hour hearing Monday by video conference. She said she plans to make a decision about sanctions at a later date.
The judge said that the court is "concerned" that affidavits included in the lawsuit "were submitted in bad faith." Some of the affidavits, Trump's lawyers admitted, were repurposed from other cases.
The lawsuit alleging widespread fraud was voluntarily dropped after a judge in December found nothing but “speculation and conjecture” that votes for Trump somehow were destroyed or switched to votes for Joe Biden, who won Michigan by 2.8 percentage points.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the city of Detroit now want the plaintiffs and a raft of attorneys, including Trump allies Sidney Powell and L. Lin Wood, to face the consequences of pursuing what they call frivolous claims.
“It was never about winning on the merits of the claims, but rather (the) purpose was to undermine the integrity of the election results and the people’s trust in the electoral process and in government,” the attorney general's office said in a court filing.
Parker asked lawyers representing Trump's allies about how they put the original complaint together and to name a legal precedent that would have given her authority decertify an election result.
Donald Campbell, one of the attorneys representing Trump's legal team, argued that the Supreme Court decision in the 2000 case Bush v. Gore was the basis for their request to overturn the election.
"I don't understand that," Parker responded.
Heather Meingast, an attorney for in the Michigan attorney general office, said that Bush v. Gore was "not even applicable."
Parker, in expressing concern about how the lawyers had compiled their initial case, pointed to one statement in which someone claimed that "tens of thousands" of new ballots were brought into a counting room but the person being quoted never saw them.
Parker repeatedly admonished the lawyers for not investigating and fact-checking the affidavits they used in their complaint.
"There's been no kind of minimal vetting," the judge said. "Every lawyer has that duty to do a minimal amount of investigation before filing evidence or what's purported to be evidence this court."
Howard Kleinhendler, an attorney who pushed false election claims and participated in Monday's hearing, insisted that he and his colleagues "did a ton of due diligence" in reviewing the accusations made.
Juli Haller, a former Trump administration official who defended the accused lawyers in court on Monday, said that she was "a little confused by the [judge's] questions because we didn't put forth false documents" and that they "didn't act in bad faith."
There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Indeed, election officials from both political parties have stated publicly that the election went well, and international observers confirmed there were no serious irregularities.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six Republican voters who wanted Parker to decertify Michigan's election results and impound voting machines. The judge declined, calling the request “stunning in its scope and breathtaking in its reach.”
The case appeared to be mostly handled by Detroit-area attorneys. But the lawsuit also carried the names of Powell, Wood and four more lawyers from outside Michigan.
The roles of Powell and Wood are unclear; they never filed a formal appearance in the case, according to the docket. But they've been targeted in the request for penalties.
Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, also a Democrat, want the state to receive at least $11,000 in legal fees. Detroit is asking the judge to disgorge any money that lawyers have collected through a post-election fundraising campaign. The city also wants the lawyers to face disciplinary hearings in their respective states.
In response, attorney Stefanie Lambert Junttila insisted there was plenty of evidence to support the lawsuit.
“They are a new form of political retribution,” she said of possible sanctions. “Such abuse of the law has no place in this court and is contrary to the law it hypocritically invokes.”
In New York, Rudy Giuliani has been suspended from practicing law because he made false statements while trying to get courts to overturn Trump’s election loss.