A federal judge in Michigan on Wednesday night ordered sanctions to be levied against nine pro-Trump lawyers, including Sidney Powell and L. Lin Wood, ruling that a lawsuit laden with conspiracy theories that they filed last year challenging the validity of the presidential election was “a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process.”
In her decision, Judge Linda V. Parker of the Federal District Court in Detroit ordered the lawyers to be referred to the local legal authorities in their home states for possible suspension or disbarment.
Declaring that the lawsuit should never have been filed, Judge Parker wrote in her 110-page order that it was “one thing to take on the charge of vindicating rights associated with an allegedly fraudulent election,” but another to deceive “a federal court and the American people into believing that rights were infringed.”
“This is what happened here,” she wrote.
Ms. Powell and Mr. Wood did not respond immediately to comment on the ruling. The other lawyers, including two who served in the Trump administration, could not be reached on Wednesday night for comment.
The Michigan lawsuit, filed in late November, was one of four legal actions, collectively known as the “Kraken” suits, that Ms. Powell filed in courts around the country, claiming that tabulation machines made by Dominion Voting Systems were tampered with by a bizarre set of characters, such as the financier George Soros or Venezuelan intelligence agents. In the suits, she complained without merit that those conspirators began a complicated, covert plot to digitally flip votes from President Donald J. Trump to his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Judge Parker’s order came about a month after a marathon hearing during which she repeatedly pressed Ms. Powell and her colleagues about how — or even whether — they had verified the statements of witnesses who filed sworn statements making claims of widespread fraud and tampering with voting machines. Several times, Judge Parker expressed astonishment at the lawyers’ answers, telling them they had a responsibility to perform “minimal due diligence” and calling some of the lawsuit’s claims “fantastical.”
In her decision, Judge Parker accused Ms. Powell, who is based in Dallas, and Mr. Wood, who is based in Atlanta, of abusing “the well-established rules” of litigation by making claims that were backed by neither the law nor evidence, but were instead marked by “speculation, conjecture and unwarranted suspicion.”
“This case was never about fraud,” Judge Parker wrote. “It was about undermining the people’s faith in our democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so.”
David Fink, a lawyer for the City of Detroit, called the ruling “a powerful message to attorneys everywhere.”
“Follow the rules, stick to the truth or pay a price,” Mr. Fink said. “Lawyers will now know that there are consequences for filing frivolous lawsuits.”
Trump’s Bid to Subvert the Election
A monthslong campaign. During his last days in office, President Donald J. Trump and his allies undertook an increasingly urgent effort to undermine the election results. That wide-ranging campaign included perpetuating false and thoroughly debunked claims of election fraud as well as pressing government officials for help.
Baseless claims of voter fraud. Although Mr. Trump’s allegations of a stolen election have died in the courts and election officials of both parties from every state have said there is no evidence of fraud, Republicans across the country continued to spread conspiracy theories. Those include 147 House Republicans who voted against certifying the election.
Intervention at the Justice Department. Rebuffed by ranking Republicans and cabinet officials like Attorney General William P. Barr, who stepped down weeks before his tenure was to end, Mr. Trump sought other avenues to peddle his unfounded claims. In a bid to advance his personal agenda, Mr. Trump plotted to oust the acting attorney general and pressed top officials to declare that the election was corrupt. His chief of staff pushed the department to investigate an array of outlandish and unfounded conspiracy theories that held that Mr. Trump had been the victor.
Pressuring state officials to 'find votes.' As the president continued to refuse to concede the election, his most loyal backers proclaimed Jan. 6, when Congress convened to formalize Mr. Biden’s electoral victory, as a day of reckoning. On that day, Mr. Trump delivered an incendiary speech to thousands of his supporters hours before a mob of loyalists violently stormed the Capitol.
Judge Parker’s order, which said Ms. Powell and her colleagues had “scorned their oath, flouted the rules and attempted to undermine the integrity of the judiciary,” was the latest legal setback for the embattled group of lawyers who emerged from the postelection period as the most die-hard of Mr. Trump’s supporters.
The former president and his allies filed more than 60 lawsuits challenging the election last year, losing nearly all of them. None were more outrageous — or lacking in proof — than those filed by Ms. Powell, positing a conspiracy of international intelligence operatives manipulating the election results by hacking into voting machines.
Dominion ultimately sued Ms. Powell and others, including Mr. Trump’s former lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, for defamation, accusing them of initiating “a viral disinformation campaign” about the election and seeking damages of more than $1 billion. Those lawsuits were allowed to proceed to trial this month after a federal judge in Washington denied Ms. Powell’s and Mr. Giuliani’s motions to dismiss.
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