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Sanctions sought against lawyers who pushed to overturn Michigan's election

Beth LeBlanc Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Attorney General Dana Nessel said she plans to seek sanctions against lawyers who filed lawsuits against the state's election results with claims that featured "intentional misrepresentations."

The Democratic attorney general also plans to pursue court costs and fees and to file complaints with the attorney grievance commission, Nessel told reporters Tuesday. Her remarks came as the City of Detroit and an attorney for Wayne County voter Robert Davis took their own steps in search of sanctions against lawyers involved in one of the cases to overturn the state's presidential election.

Dana Nessel

Davis and his attorney, Andrew Paterson, filed a motion Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court for Michigan's Eastern District for sanctions against the lawyers who represented six Michigan Republicans in asking a judge to require that President Donald Trump be named the state's winner. The Republican's case, which is known as King v. Whitmer, relied on conspiracy theories and discredited claims of wrongdoing.

Trump lost Michigan to President-elect Joe Biden by 154,000 votes, according to the certified results, and no proof of widespread fraud has been presented.

The court needs to sanction "the egregious conduct of the plaintiffs and their attorneys for making clearly frivolous arguments and using the judicial system to obtain unprecedented relief, to satisfy plaintiffs’ selfish and destructive political agendas," said the filing from Davis, who had intervened in the case.

On Nov. 25, the six Michigan Republicans, represented in part by conservative attorney Sidney Powell, filed their lawsuit asking for "emergency relief," including a court order requiring Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to sign off on certified election results that state "President Donald Trump is the winner of the election."

Detroit U.S. District Court Judge Linda Parker rejected the push on Dec. 7. The suit seemed "less about achieving the relief" the GOP plaintiffs sought and "more about the impact of their allegations on people’s faith in the democratic process and their trust in our government," Parker wrote.

Davis's motion cited a section of U.S. Code that allows a judge to require attorneys to pay "excess costs, expenses and attorney's fee" for conduct that "multiplies the proceedings in any case unreasonably and vexatiously."

Sidney Powell, right, speaks next to former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, as members of President Donald Trump's legal team, during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters, Thursday Nov. 19, 2020, in Washington.

"It is unfathomable that licensed attorneys would deliberately file false and misleading affidavits and pleadings with the Court in an effort to disenfranchise millions of Michigan residents," Davis said. "Not only should these individuals and their attorneys be assessed financial sanctions, but they also should be barred from practicing in the federal courts in the Eastern District of Michigan."

The City of Detroit, which also intervened in the case, is seeking a similar outcome and pursuing its own motions for sanctions. On Dec. 15, the city notified six attorneys representing the Michigan Republicans that it would pursue sanctions under a court rule that allows them when a filing is presented for an "improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay or needlessly increase the cost of litigation."

"The allegations about supposed fraud in the processing and tabulation of absentee ballots by the city at the TCF Center have been rejected by every court which has considered them," Detroit's motion for sanctions said. "If any of the claims in this lawsuit had merit, that would have been demonstrated in those cases."

Detroit is seeking monetary sanctions, barring the plaintiff's attorneys from practicing in the Eastern District and a requirement that the plaintiffs and their counsel post a bond of $100,000 prior to filing any other action related to the case.

As for Nessel, she said her requests for sanctions will likely be made after the cases have been closed out.

"Some of these cases where we know for a fact there were intentional misrepresentations made — the kind of misrepresentation that there is no question of fact that these were inaccurate statements that were presented to the court — yes, myself and also Secretary Benson, will be filing complaints to the attorney grievance commission," Nessel said. 

For attorneys from outside Michigan, the complaint would be made to their appropriate state bar, she said. 

While Nessel didn't mention the names of lawyers she may pursue sanctions against, she indicated that those who filed later, after the initial allegations had been assessed and denied immediate relief, were more culpable. 

She said she could file against a lawyer associated with a case challenging Antrim County results and false statements he made on Newsmax and OANN. Matthew DePerno filed the case in Antrim County on behalf of resident William Bailey. 

"I think we need to go back to a time where you can trust an attorney is making an accurate and truthful representation to the court because if they don't, then they won't be able to practice law anymore," Nessel said. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com