A judge in Michigan pinned down lawyers in a marathon video court hearing Monday on whether they had done due diligence before filing election fraud claims in federal court in November. The grilling came in a hearing over whether the Trump-supporting lawyers should be penalized — with the possible consequence of losing their law licenses — following their lawsuit to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Much of the six-hour hearing hinged on Judge Linda Parker’s line-by-line questioning about broad claims the lawyers had made alleging fraud and about sworn statements they had submitted to court from supposed witnesses speculating about ballot malfeasance, sometimes based on second- and third-hand chatter.
Ultimately the hearing became a painstaking recounting of the thinness of the claims supporting election fraud, and it came as former President Donald Trump has continued to repeat lies about the election’s result and, in recent days, has rallied fellow Republicans around his claims.
Several state and national officials have verified the security of the 2020 presidential election and the integrity of its result: that Trump lost multiple swing states, including Michigan.
The judge on Monday repeatedly asked how much work the lawyers had done to verify the fraud claims. In response, several argued that they did not need to do that, if the witnesses believed that what they were saying was true. Fact-finding could be done during the course of the lawsuit, the attorneys who filed it argued.
At one point, Parker, sitting in the Eastern District of Michigan, asked the nine lawyers who took part in bringing the lawsuit if they had ever followed up to learn if any of their so-called witnessed actually saw a vote being changed.
No one responded. “Let the record reflect,” Parker responded, noting their silence.
“There has to be a minimal belief on the part of counsel that these … are rooted in fact,” Parker said. “Every lawyer has a duty” to do minimal research to verify evidence presented in court, the judge added.
Releasing the Kraken
Dozens of lawsuits after Trump’s election loss pushed unfounded claims of fraud, seeking overturn Joe Biden’s win.
The lawsuits — and especially the case in Michigan — were an early, major attempt by Trump to claim the presidential election result in November was illegitimate. His team and supporters — at times represented by right-wing personalities Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani and others — lost all of their attempts in court to gain traction on voter fraud.
More than a dozen lawyers appeared at the hearing Monday after the judge scheduled it to determine whether they had brought a frivolous case or made false claims. Possible consequences of the judge making that determination or referring the matter for further disciplinary proceedings include the attorneys losing their ability to practice law.
The lawyers, including Powell and Lin Wood, had branded their effort as releasing “the Kraken,” named after a mythical sea monster.
In court Monday, the Kraken team argued they had put together a “pattern” of statements from supposed witnesses that backed the possibility of ballot fraud.
“I would submit, your honor, it’s not fantastical,” attorney Julia Haller told the judge, defending one witness affidavit that was filled with speculative phrases about a couple dropping off plastic bags with the US Postal Service in Plymouth, Michigan. The affidavit included phrases such as “it was as if” and “what could be in those bags,” and the witness, Matt Ciantar, noted that he believed the scene “looked odd,” without providing further information.
Haller called it a “true affidavit.” “It would be what he believes to be true,” she added.
“This is pure speculation. All right, moving on,” the judge responded.
Powell, one of the most well-known attorneys in the bunch, spoke little. When she did speak at length at the end of the proceeding, she said she took full responsibility for the filings in the case and felt a duty to the country to file 2020 election fraud lawsuits.
Messaging vs. legal work
A decision on whether the attorneys should be sanctioned is unlikely to come for at least two weeks, after the judge gave each one another round to make their arguments, in writing.
A lawyer for the city of Detroit argued that the lawsuit was solely meant to spread lies about the election: “This lawsuit has been used to delegitimize the presidency of Joe Biden,” attorney David Fink said in court.
The city, as well as the state of Michigan, had asked the court to sanction the lawyers who brought the case.
“This was, from the beginning to the end, an attempt to get a message out that was extrajudicial. We could not find a basis in law from what they were trying to do,” Fink said earlier in the hearing. “What they filed” in the case “was an embarrassment to the legal profession.”
Howard Kleinhendler, who was an architect of the fraud lawsuit alongside Powell, said he rejected “categorically” that it was a publicity stunt for Trump.
The judge, during the hearing, also pressed the attorneys to explain why they believed a court could intervene in the election weeks after the vote, instead of using the typical process of recounts — and why they didn’t dismiss the lawsuit after the vote had been certified by the state and by Congress.
The answers often wavered, with the Kraken-attorney team suggesting they believed they could have supplanted an Electoral College slate headed to Congress, and that they believed they had a right to contest the election in court.
At times, Powell, Haller and others asked the court for more opportunities to gather evidence and question the witnesses they had presented in court as believing there had been fraud.
Defending them on Monday, an attorney for the Kraken team pointed to Bush v. Gore, the 2000 Supreme Court case that stopped recounts, certifying George W. Bush’s win of the presidency, as reason Trump’s supporters could try to set aside vote counts through the courts.
Lin Wood distances himself from Kraken
During the hearing, Wood, a longtime celebrity lawyer who’s become a right-wing personality in recent years, appeared to turn against his colleagues, distancing himself from their work when he spoke to the judge.
Wood said he wasn’t involved and didn’t explicitly agree to help with the Michigan election fraud suit. His name was on the lawsuit because other Trump-supporting lawyers had included it, he said in court Monday.
“I do not specifically recall being asked about the Michigan complaint, but I generally indicated to Sidney Powell … I would be willing and available to help her,” Wood said. “My skills apparently were never needed, so I didn’t have any involvement.”
Several times during the hearing, Wood attempted to speak over others, including the judge, to defend himself.
At one point, the court reporter who was transcribing the hearing raised her voice to cut him off, saying she couldn’t capture the words spoken at the hearing with so much talking out of school.
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