A Michigan federal judge grilled Sidney Powell and her team of lawyers for roughly six hours Monday in response to motions to sanction the attorneys in connection with their conspiracy-laden lawsuit claiming election fraud in the state.
U.S. District Judge Linda Parker heard arguments from lawyers for Detroit and Michigan for sanctioning Powell and her team, but spent most of the hearing scrutinizing the baseless allegations of fraud and misconduct leveled in the lawsuit, which involved several attorneys, including three from Michigan: Scott Hagerstrom, Stefanie Lambert Junttila and Greg Rohl.
Parker repeatedly questioned whether the attorneys properly investigated the claims of fraud and misconduct presented in affidavits included in the lawsuit before submitting them to the court.
“My concern is that counsel here has submitted affidavits to suggest and make the public believe that there was something wrong with the election. And that is what this is all about. That’s what these affidavits are designed to do, to show that there was something wrong in Michigan, there was something wrong in Wayne County,” Parker said.
The lawyers largely could not say they spoke with the people who provided the affidavits, something that appeared of concern to Parker, who used phrases such as “shocks me,” “a little surprising” and “problematic.”
“I think it’s wrong for an affidavit to be submitted in support … if there’s been no kind of minimal vetting,” Parker said.
“If you can’t determine from the plain language of the affidavit, how am I supposed to draw any kind of evidence from it?”
Parker, who essentially dismissed the underlying lawsuit in December 2020, said she would give attorneys two weeks to submit additional documents to the court before determining whether sanctions are warranted.
The Powell team attorneys regularly pushed back on the judge’s questions, at times leading to contentious moments.
Attorney Donald Campbell questioned why the judge would spend time on certain questions and proclaimed “I am not a potted plant, I will represent my clients.”
In making the argument for sanctions, lawyers for the city of Detroit and Michigan told Parker that imperiling democracy by perpetuating lies about the 2020 presidential election warrants substantial punishment.
“In this case, the very basis of the election of the president of the United States was under attack. These folks were putting in jeopardy the safety of our republic,” said David Fink, an attorney for Detroit.
The lawsuit — filed after Michigan’s Nov. 3 election results were certified but before Michigan’s presidential electors cast their votes for President Joe Biden — asked the court to order Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to award Michigan’s 16 Electoral College votes to former President Donald Trump. He lost the state to Biden by more than 154,000 votes.
In dismissing the lawsuit, Parker suggested the intent of the legal challenge was to shake “people’s faith in the democratic process and their trust in our government.” Powell’s team appealed Parker’s ruling and in a last-ditch effort asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up their case just days before Michigan’s Electoral College delegates cast their votes for Biden.
Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a motion for sanctions on behalf of Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in late January, arguing the lawsuit aimed to sow doubt in the legitimacy of the election and disenfranchise Michigan voters by peddling false information and frivolous legal claims. The motion asked the court to award attorneys’ fees in the amount of $11,071.
The request followed a similar one from the city of Detroit, seeking sanctions against the presidential electors nominated by the Michigan GOP and local party officials, who brought the lawsuit, and their attorneys. The amount requested would cover the costs incurred by the city in the case and impose an additional financial penalty “sufficient to deter future misconduct.”
In addition to Powell and the three Michigan attorneys named in the state’s motion for sanctions, the city asked Parker to refer other attorneys involved to the relevant disciplinary authorities. They include L. Lin Wood, Emily Newman, Julia Haller, Brandon Johnson and Howard Kleinhendler. The city’s motion also asks Parker to refer the attorneys to the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan — where the lawsuit was filed — to initiate disbarment proceedings.
“What they filed in the first complaint, in this case, was an embarrassment to the legal profession. It was sloppy, it was unreadable .. .the fact is, this was a sloppy, careless effort,” Fink said.
Campbell presented most of the arguments for the Trump-supporting team. He said Powell, Kleinhendler and others zealously advocated for the rights of their clients and did so in a way that followed legal ethics.
Parker questioned what authority they believe she had to overturn an election and whether the attorneys actually read the documents they submitted with their legal filing.
The hearing at times devolved into procedural debates about the role each attorney had and precedent for making certain arguments.
Wood, a well-known conspiracy theorist who has lied about the election, did everything he could to distance himself from the lawsuit.
“Your honor, I just didn’t have anything to do with this,” Wood said, arguing he never saw the lawsuit or knew that his name would be appended to it. But Powell told Parker that she recalls asking Wood about adding his name to the lawsuit.
Wood also said he didn’t learn that sanctions were being sought against him until he read his name in a media report. Fink said this is blatantly false.
During the hearing, Parker asked Powell’s team whether they questioned the so-called expert reports filed in support of the lawsuit, including one that wildly misstated voter turnout rates in Michigan and falsely alleged votes were switched in Antrim County. Attorneys assured Parker that they had spoken with the experts and vetted the claims.
Campbell said that there is no evidence that the lawyers involved had knowledge that the information provided was inaccurate. And in the case of the voter turnout report, Campbell noted that a corrected version was filed.
In response, Fink said that lawyers could have staved off the election misinformation contained in the lawsuit by the “slightest bit of due diligence.” A 30-second internet search, for instance, would have made clear that turnout in Detroit was 51% and not 139%, Fink said.
“These lies were put out into the world, and when they were put out into the world, they were adopted and believed,” he said.
Michigan election officials and the Free Press have repeatedly refuted and debunked many of the allegations contained in the lawsuit.
In response to a billion-dollar defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems against Powell for her false statements about the election equipment manufacturer, Powell’s attorneys said Powell’s false assertions were protected by the First Amendment and that “no reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact.”
Nessel filed a supplemental brief pointing to the statement as an admission by Powell that she knew her election fraud claims were misleading. In response, Junttila doubled down on Powell’s defense, arguing that Powell’s claims should be considered opinion, not fact.
Over eight months after Biden won the state, the legal team behind the case has continued to question the legitimacy of the election. Junttila met with Cheboygan County commissioners in May to push for an audit in the county based on debunked reports that votes were manipulated. The commission subsequently sought approval from the Bureau of Elections for an audit of the voting equipment and software to determine whether an unauthorized computer changed votes in the county Trump won.
Junttila and Rohl dispute the validity of the exhaustive Senate Oversight Committee report on the Nov. 3 election that found no evidence of widespread fraud or vote switching in Michigan. The GOP-led investigation concluded that voters should “use a critical eye and ear toward those who have pushed demonstrably false theories for their own personal gain.”
Chris Thomas, the former elections director for Michigan, said Monday’s hearing brought much needed accountability.
“For too long post election cases have been populated with blatant untruths masquerading as facts. No one ever looks back once all shouting is over to hold lawyers accountable — until now!” Thomas tweeted.
Clara Hendrickson fact-checks Michigan issues and politics as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-296-5743. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.
Contact Dave Boucher: email@example.com or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.