"There’s a duty that counsel has that when you’re submitting a sworn statement . . . that you have reviewed it, that you had done some minimal due diligence.” You might expect to hear that statement in a first-year law school class. Instead, it was made by a federal court judge in Michigan during an extraordinary court session that underscored the irresponsibility of lawyers who sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Unlike for former president Donald Trump and other politicians who lie with seeming impunity, there may be real consequences for the lawyers who helped him peddle his spurious claims about election fraud.

U.S. District Court Judge Linda V. Parker held a nearly six-hour hearing on Monday to determine whether nine pro-Trump lawyers, including Sidney Powell and L. Lin Wood, should be disciplined for making unverified arguments in a lawsuit that sought to decertify President Biden’s victory and declare Mr. Trump the winner of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes. The judge said she will rule later this summer, but her brutal questioning left little doubt about the recklessness of the attorneys’ actions.

The judge noted that one witness said in an affidavit filed with the lawsuit that she believed she saw election workers switching votes from Mr. Trump to Mr. Biden. Had any of the lawyers spoken to the witness, the judge asked, to determine exactly what she saw that led her to believe that votes had been switched? There was silence. “Anyone?” she asked again, and when there was still no answer she said: “Let the record reflect that no one made that inquiry, which was central to [the] allegation.” It was rich seeing some attorneys who enthusiastically promoted suspicions last fall and winter try to distance themselves now. Mr. Wood said he had no involvement in preparing the lawsuit even though his name was on the court papers. An attorney for Emily Newman described her role as “de minimis . . . a contract lawyer working from home who spent maybe five hours on this matter.”

Lawyers are required by legal rules and federal law to be truthful in court and avoid filing cases “unreasonably and vexatiously.” If Judge Parker decides to sanction the lawyers, she could require them to pay the legal costs of the other parties in the lawsuit, assess additional monetary penalties or recommend grievance proceedings that could lead to them being banned from practicing law in Michigan or their disbarment. Mr. Trump’s most prominent legal advocate, Rudolph W. Giuliani, has had his license to practice law in New York state and Washington, D.C., suspended as a result of his comments in connection with election-related litigation. He faces disbarment in pending disciplinary proceedings.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has set up shop at his golf club in New Jersey, where he blithely continues to repeat his fiction about a stolen election, a lie that his Republican political allies are all too willing help spread. It will be up to voters to hold them accountable for their abuse of the political system, but the court in Michigan has an opportunity to send a message about abusing the legal system.

Read more: