Judge sanctions pro-Trump attorneys for ‘historic and profound abuse of the judicial process’

Lawyers will have to take legal education classes

By: - August 26, 2021 7:34 am

Kevin Skinner of Stand Up Michigan addresses the crowd at a Trump Rally outside the Michigan State Capitol Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

Linda Parker, U.S. District Judge of the Eastern District of Michigan, on Wednesday ordered sanctions for “Kraken” attorneys, including former President Donald Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, for spreading false claims while litigating the results of the 2020 general election. 

Michigan attorneys Greg Rohl, Scott Hagerstrom and Stefanie Junttila also were sanctioned. Hagerstrom is a longtime GOP operative who ran Trump’s 2016 Michigan campaign and the Michigan branch of the Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity.

Sidney Powell | Screenshot

Trump lost Michigan by more than 154,000 votes to now-President Joe Biden. But Parker and the other attorneys filed a lawsuit to “release the Kraken” against the state as part of a nationwide effort of convervative attorneys to overturn the 2020 general election in favor of Trump. Every suit failed to show widespread fraud. 

Over 250 election audits conducted by state and local officials concluded that there was no evidence of fraud or concern for the security of the state’s election.

In a six-hour hearing last month, Parker ridiculed the “Kraken” litigation  team’s sworn affidavits that were full of unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an affidavit that makes so many leaps. This is really fantastical,” Parker said at the July 12 hearing. “So my question to counsel here is: How could any of you as officers of the court present this affidavit?”

The opening paragraph of Parker’s 110-page opinion this week began by saying that the lawsuit represents a “historic and profound abuse of the judicial process.”

“It is one thing to take on the charge of vindicating rights associated with an allegedly fraudulent election,” Parker wrote in the opinion. “It is another to take on the charge of deceiving a federal court and the American people into believing that rights were infringed, without regard to whether any laws or rights were in fact violated. This is what happened here.” 

The opinion went on to say that the sanctions would be an action to ensure that attorneys did not file similar lawsuits in the future. 

“Sanctions are required to deter the filing of future frivolous lawsuits designed primarily to spread the narrative that our election processes are rigged and our democratic institutions cannot be trusted,” the opinion read. 

Both the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan asked federal courts to sanction the lawyers involved with the case. Rudy Giuliani, another pro-Trump lawyer pursuing cases in other states, has had his law license temporarily suspended in Washington, D.C., and New York for making baseless claims about the election in court. 

The lawyers have been ordered to reimburse attorneys’ fees paid by the city of Detroit and Michigan state officials. The lawyers will also be required to take legal education classes while their case will be referred to the Michigan State Attorney Grievance Commission, where they may face disciplinary action. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel (left), Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (center) and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (right) | Andrew Roth and Casey Hull photos

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, all Democrats, have also sought to disbar the attorneys.

In a statement following the ruling, Whitmer praised the court for ruling to reject the enablers of the “Big Lie” that seeks to undermine America’s elections by falsely claiming Trump won. 

“Today’s ruling sends a clear message: those who seek to overturn an American election and poison the well of American democracy will face consequences.” Whitmer said. 

Nessel said she was pleased that the court had “ensured there is accountability for the attorneys who perpetuated meritless arguments in court.”

“It has remained abundantly clear from the outset that this lawsuit aimed to do nothing more than undermine our democratic process,” Nessel said. “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.” 


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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.