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Federal judge in Michigan orders pro-Trump lawyers disciplined over lawsuit seeking to overturn 2020 election

Sidney Powell, right, and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, as members of President Donald Trump’s legal team, address a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington on Nov. 19, 2020.
Sidney Powell, right, and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, as members of President Donald Trump’s legal team, address a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington on Nov. 19, 2020. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
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A federal judge in Michigan has ordered that Sidney Powell, L. Lin Wood and seven other attorneys who filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election be disciplined, calling the suit “a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process.”

In a scathing 110-page opinion, Federal District Judge Linda V. Parker wrote that the lawyers had made assertions in court that were not backed by evidence and had failed to do the due diligence required by legal rules before alleging mass fraud in the Michigan vote.

“This case was never about fraud,” she wrote. “It was about undermining the People’s faith in our democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so.”

She ordered the lawyers to pay the attorney’s fees for their opponents in the case — the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan. She also wrote that she will require them to attend legal education classes. And she referred the group to the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, as well as attorney disciplinary committees in the states where each attorney is licensed, which could initiate proceedings that could result in the lawyer’s being disbarred.

Neither Powell nor Wood immediately responded to requests for comment Wednesday.

The order in Michigan came as judges around the country have been weighing how to hold accountable lawyers who used the courts to advance flimsy challenges to the election.

In June, a panel of judges in New York suspended the law license of former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, arguing that former president Donald Trump’s personal lawyer had “communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements” that amounted to an ongoing threat to the public. Giuliani’s lawyers have said they are confident his license will be restored after a hearing.

Since President Trump lost the 2020 election, his campaign aides have repeatedly appeared on Fox News to tease baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

This month, a judge in Colorado disciplined two other lawyers who had sought to file a class-action suit on behalf of every American voter alleging a mass conspiracy to steal the election.

In July, Parker had held a nearly six-hour hearing with the lawyers involved in the Michigan case, where she grilled the group about the minimal — and at times nonexistent — steps they had taken to ensure the filings in their case had been accurate.

In her opinion Wednesday, Parker wrote that the group had violated legal rules that prohibit attorneys from clogging the court systems with frivolous motions or from filing information that is not true.

“Plaintiffs’ counsel’s politically motivated accusations, allegations, and gamesmanship may be protected by the First Amendment when posted on Twitter, shared on Telegram, or repeated on television,” she wrote. “The nation’s courts, however, are reserved for hearing legitimate causes of action.”

One of a series of lawsuits known as the “Kraken” cases — after Powell promised her lawsuits would amount to releasing the mythical creature in Trump’s defense — the Michigan case had been brought on behalf of six local Republicans in late November 2020, after Joe Biden’s victory in the state had already been certified.

It argued that Biden’s win had been marred by fraud and asked Parker to require that Trump instead be declared the winner of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes. Parker rejected the request in December, writing that she was being asked to disenfranchise “more than 5.5 million Michigan citizens who, with dignity, hope, and a promise of a voice, participated in the 2020 General Election.”

She added that the plaintiffs had advanced “nothing but speculation and conjecture that votes for President Trump were destroyed, discarded or switched to votes for Vice President Biden.”

Lawyers for the city of Detroit, as well as Attorney General Dana Nessel (D), acting on behalf of the state’s governor and secretary of state, had moved for the lawyers to be disciplined.

“It has remained abundantly clear from the outset that this lawsuit aimed to do nothing more than undermine our democratic process,” Nessel said in a statement. “I appreciated Judge Parker’s thoroughness in the hearing last month, and I appreciate the unmistakable message she sends with this ruling — those who vow to uphold the Constitution must answer for abandoning that oath.”

“This ruling sends a powerful message to attorneys everywhere — follow the rules, stick to the truth, or pay a price,” said David Fink, an attorney for the city of Detroit. “This ruling means that attorneys can be held accountable for using the courts to broadcast false information, and, hopefully, it lets the world know that there was no basis for this lawsuit, and the big lie that this election was stolen has been rejected.”