A federal judge in Michigan has ordered a group of lawyers who brought a failed lawsuit challenging the 2020 election results to pay about $175,000 in legal fees to the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit, the latest in a series of rulings from federal judges seeking to hold lawyers accountable for trying to use the courts to overturn a democratic election.
U.S. District Judge Linda V. Parker had already ordered that the group of nine lawyers — including Sidney Powell and L. Lin Wood, both allies to former president Donald Trump — be disciplined for their role in the suit, which in August she called “a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process.”
Federal judge in Michigan orders pro-Trump lawyers disciplined over lawsuit seeking to overturn 2020 election
But the group had been balking at the fees requested by their opponents in the suit, particularly the city of Detroit, which had reported that it spent $182,192 defending the case.
On Thursday, Parker said those fees were for the most part reasonable. She ordered the lawyers to pay nearly $153,000 to the city and another $22,000 to the state to pay their costs in the case.
She said the hefty fee was an “appropriate sanction . . . needed to deter Plaintiffs’ counsel and others from engaging in similar misconduct in the future.” She also wrote that she believed that the attorneys have the ability to pay the fees, particularly given that they have been soliciting donations from members of the public to fund lawsuits like the one they brought in Michigan.
“We disagree with the district court’s decision in its entirety and we plan to promptly appeal to the Sixth Circuit,” said Howard Kleinhendler, one of the lawyers who also represents Powell.
Wood said he also would appeal. “I undertook no act in Michigan and I had no involvement in the Michigan lawsuit filed by Sidney Powell,” he said in an email. (Wood made the same argument to Parker at a hearing earlier this year, but she was not persuaded to exclude him from discipline.)
Federal prosecutors have also sought records from Powell’s fundraising groups as part of a criminal probe.
David Fink, a lawyer for the city of Detroit, said: “These lawyers abused the federal courts to advance the big lie. They must pay a price for their misconduct, and this ruling is a good start.”
Michigan Attorney Gen. Dana Nessel (D) concurred.
“The awarding of fees further holds accountable the attorneys who worked to distort our democracy in favor of lining their own pockets,” Nessel said in a statement. “These attorneys demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the law and attempted to use the courts to further a false and destructive narrative. While there is likely no amount of money that can undo the damage they caused, I am happy to see these sanctions handed down.”
One of a series of lawsuits filed in several states 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.”
Lawyers for the city of Detroit, as well as Nessel, acting on behalf of the state’s governor and secretary of state, then asked Parker to discipline the lawyers who brought the case, arguing they had violated rules that require lawyers to tell the truth in court and not to unnecessarily clog the courts with frivolous actions.
Parker, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, agreed in August, ruling not only that the group should pay their opponents’ legal fees but also that they should be required to attend legal education classes. She also referred the group to the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, as well as disciplinary committees in states where each of the lawyers is licensed, which could initiate proceedings that would result in them being disbarred.
In a scathing 110-page ruling in August, Parker had written that the case “was never about fraud.”
“It was,” she wrote, “about undermining the People’s faith in our democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so.”
On Thursday, Parker wrote that she would stay her order to pay the fees should the lawyers wish to appeal.
Last week, a federal judge in Colorado ordered two other lawyers in that state to pay nearly $187,000 to public officials and private companies they sued in a failed challenge to the 2020 results, writing that the lawyers needed “to take responsibility” for the legal misconduct represented by the suit.
Grievance proceedings have also been opened in multiple states to examine whether lawyers involved in such suits should be disbarred. New York state in June suspended former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s license while a committee of judges explores his efforts as Trump’s attorney to overturn the election. Giuliani is appealing the order and has said he is confident his license will be restored.