In Michigan on Thursday, Republican lawyers returned to court asking for verification of election results in the highly democratic county that hosts Detroit – even after the state’s Supreme Court has already rejected the same group’s previous request to stop certification. The city’s desperate lawyer asked the judge to do something.
“They are trying to use this court in a very, very wrong way,” Detroit city lawyer David Fink said. “We are asking this court not only to deny the requested relief, but to impose significant sanctions because it must stop.”
A lawyer for Trump pollsters fired back: “I didn’t realize I was threatening our republic so much by simply asking this court to enforce our constitutional right.”
The Michigan case is not isolated, and opponents say the relentless efforts are beginning to be seen as abusive. At least five new cases have been opened on behalf of the president over the past week. At least 46 lawsuits have now been filed between the Trump campaign and the president’s allies against the 2020 presidential race – in many cases using the same recycled fraud claims and testimonies.
And if more cases get into the court files with blatant mistakes, or what the judges consider to be anemic evidence, legal experts told ABC News that even some slowly hot judges have no choice but to impose sanctions.
“You could see a court saying,‘ Enough, ’” said Daniel I. Weiner, deputy director of the Electoral Reform Program at the University of New York’s Brennan Center for Justice.
“A post-justice environment”
It’s almost impossible to predict whether a snowstorm in lawsuits could cross a line and whether the court finds it abusive, many legal experts have told ABC News, but some say it now seems possible. Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University and an expert on ethics, says there is a point where a plaintiff can be reprimanded, especially if cases are repeatedly dismissed as unsubstantiated by facts – as has happened several times in Trump’s case.
“Judges have the right from the outset to impose monetary sanctions on lawyers who abuse the court system by making claims that have no reasonable factual or legal basis,” Gillers said. – Do they do it often? No. Unheard of? No.
Charles Gardner Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, said he finds it distressing when the president “exports this post-truth environment” to the courtroom. But he doubts the courts will go so far as to sanction lawyers who pose election challenges, no matter how little evidence.
Judges “don’t want to be seen openly as a political opinion,” Geyh said. “If they land with lawyers who represent the president as a plethora of bricks, they know how that will be perceived.”
According to Geyh, Powell’s cases, which refer to a global plan to hold elections, involving foreign oligarchs, Venezuelan dictators and a Colorado-based voting machine company, are “strangely extreme.”
“I think part of that results in discipline,” he said.
While judges have room for maneuver to sanction attorneys in court proceedings, Weiner argues that the law enforcement task of attorneys ’behavior typically falls to state bar associations. If lawyers “are indeed reckless or malicious, they can violate the rules of the Bar Association,” he said.
On November 20, Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat, filed a lawyer’s complaint in five states against nearly two dozen lawyers who were working on President Trump’s legal efforts to challenge the election. In his letter of complaint, he alleged that the lawyers had “engaged in dishonesty, fraud, deception or misrepresentation”.
Several legal experts say Powell may be uniquely vulnerable to sanctions because of the number of errors in his submissions – some of which are extremely serious. The most worrying, they said, came during an election challenge he launched in federal court in Wisconsin earlier this week.
In the case, Powell asked a Wisconsin judge to order the release of a 48-hour security camera recording from the TCF Center – but the facility is actually in Michigan.
In another apparent mood, one of the plaintiffs, Powell – an unsuccessful Republican congressional candidate for Derrick Van Orden – said the case was initiated on his behalf without his knowledge and approval.
“I’m not a fan of those who use my name without my permission,” Van Orden told ABC News after learning about the lawsuit through social media. – Can you do it yet?
Asked about the error, Powell told ABC News. – The counselor who spoke to him reports that there has been a clear misunderstanding. Van Orden’s name has since been removed from the case and he told ABC News that he has no intention of taking legal action against Powell.
“If I were your lawyer, I would say cut it out,” NYU expert Gillers said. – Just stop because you’re on your way to disintegration.
Trump’s legal team has claimed in speeches, interviews and social media that they have convincing evidence of fraud to reinforce their legal efforts. But when they were brought before the court, they could not comply. The president therefore blamed the courts themselves.
“We just need a few judges to listen properly, without having a political opinion or any other problems,” Trump said last week.
The judges saw it differently. U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann, a Republican, wrote that Trump’s legal submissions made only “speculative accusations.” Judge Trump, Stephanos Bibas, who was appointed to the Third District Court of Appeals, was even less benevolent, warning that “declaring an election unfair does not do so.”
“The charges require concrete allegations and then evidence,” Bibas said, dismissing Trump’s lawsuit. – None of us are here.
ABC News Luke Barr contributed to the report.