WASHINGTON — Sidney Powell and other Trump-allied lawyers involved in pushing voter fraud lies in a Michigan court after the 2020 election were sanctioned Wednesday by a federal judge in a scathing opinion that blasted their “historic and profound abuse of the judicial process.”
Powell and her team, which included the right-wing attorney Lin Wood, were ordered to pay the legal costs of the state and local officials in Michigan they’d sued and to take classes on basic legal procedure and election law. They could face disciplinary action or even disbarment in the states where they’re licensed to practice law.
But aside from the practical consequences, US District Judge Linda Parker used her 110-page opinion to provide a detailed public accounting of how the lawyers had misused the legal system to press baseless fraud claims and other challenges to President Joe Biden’s win in Michigan.
“This lawsuit represents a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process,” Parker wrote. “It is one thing to take on the charge of vindicating rights associated with an allegedly fraudulent election. 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.”
Powell and Wood were key figures at the helm of a series of postelection legal challenges to Biden’s win in several swing states, including Michigan. They were often referred to as the “Kraken” cases, a nod to Powell’s public comments after the Nov. 3 election that she was prepared to “release the Kraken,” a reference to a mythological, multitentacled sea monster.
All of Powell’s cases failed, with judges — including Parker in Michigan — largely tossing them out because they failed to clear basic threshold requirements for bringing a civil lawsuit in court. Some judges specifically noted that they didn’t find credible the evidence that Powell and other challengers presented as proof of fraudulent activity. Dozens of postelection lawsuits, including some brought by former president Donald Trump, all were similarly rejected by state and federal judges of every ideological background — including some appointed by Trump. Although Powell briefly was presented as a member of the Trump campaign’s official legal team, her cases were separate.
Parker wrote that Powell and the team of lawyers who had put their names on court filings in the Michigan case violated their obligations to the court and the ethical rules they were bound to follow as licensed attorneys. Those violations included making claims that weren’t based in the law or legitimate evidence — “but instead, speculation, conjecture, and unwarranted suspicion,” the judge wrote — presenting information as if it were fact without independently vetting it and “dragging out” the case after they acknowledged it was too late for it to actually change anything in the postelection landscape.
Parker made a point of saying that she hadn’t definitively ruled on the substance of Powell’s challenge to the results of the election in Michigan and wasn’t being asked to decide now if there was fraud. But she wrote that was all beside the point because Powell and her team hadn’t pursued the lawsuit in good faith.
“[T]his case was never about fraud — it was about undermining the People’s faith in our democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so,” the judge wrote.
Parker wrote that the lawyers’ conduct had left her with no choice but to impose sanctions — it was the only way to preserve the “sanctity” of the courtroom and legal process.
“[D]espite the haze of confusion, commotion, and chaos counsel intentionally attempted to create by filing this lawsuit, one thing is perfectly clear: Plaintiffs’ attorneys have scorned their oath, flouted the rules, and attempted to undermine the integrity of the judiciary along the way,” Parker wrote.
The lawsuit was filed on Nov. 25 on behalf of a group of Michigan voters and Republican nominees to be presidential electors in the state. It was signed by three lawyers, including Powell, and listed others as being involved in the case. It accused election officials of violating state law in how they had administered the election and lodged allegations of widespread fraud. They attached affidavits from witnesses who had claimed to witness this fraud, most of which had already been submitted in other postelection legal challenges that had failed to gain any traction before other judges.
Parker dismissed the case on Dec. 7, finding it was not only legally deficient for a number of reasons, but also that the challengers were likely to fail on the merits of their claims about the lawfulness of the state’s election practices and rebuffing the baseless fraud claims. Powell and several other attorneys on her team then tried to petition the US Supreme Court to step in, a legal effort that went nowhere.
Lawyers for Michigan state and local entities that were named as defendants in the case, including the city of Detroit, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, then asked the judge to impose sanctions on the lawyers involved in pursuing the case.
The judge heard arguments in July. In a footnote in Wednesday’s opinion, she took aim at comments Powell made during the hearing comparing the pursuit of baseless postelection challenges to the legal fight against racial segregation in the mid-20th century, culminating in the landmark Supreme Court 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. The civil rights lawyers behind that case had “legal footing” for their claims and presented facts that “were not based on speculation and conjecture,” the judge wrote.
“Brown arose from an undeniable history during which Black Americans were treated as second-class citizens through legalized segregation in the schools of our country,” Parker wrote. “In stark comparison, the present matter is built on fantastical claims and conspiracy theories.”
Powell and Wood did not immediately return a request for comment.
Exactly how much Powell, Wood, and the other lawyers will have to pay isn’t known. Attorneys who represented Michigan and Detroit will submit a record of what it cost to litigate the case, and Powell and the members of her team on the hook for covering those costs will get a chance to contest the amount. Powell is already facing potentially significant financial fallout from her involvement in these cases, in the form of a billion-dollar defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems Inc., an election technology company named in one of the election fraud conspiracy theories that she’d promoted.
The lawyers also will each have to complete 12 hours of legal education within six months, including at least six hours on election law and at least six hours on litigation rules. Those classes have to be offered by a “non-partisan organization,” the judge added.
Finally, the judge ordered the clerk of the court to send copies of her decision to the authorities that investigate attorney misconduct in the states where Powell, Wood, and the other lawyers are licensed. The lawyers could then face separate ethics investigations and disciplinary action; the most serious penalty would be disbarment.
Parker wrote in another footnote that she was “troubled” that Powell had been soliciting funds and profiting from the postelection legal fights, and was concerned that the financial sanctions she was imposing might not stop them from trying something similar in the future if they could pay for it with other people’s money. She said she believed that state attorney discipline investigators should take that into consideration.