Conservative activists accused of 2020 voter intimidation robocalls lose appeal

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Two conservative activists authorities allege organized thousands of robocalls aimed at discouraging voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election have lost an appeal to toss the case against them, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Friday.

In October, Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl were bound over to Wayne County Circuit Court on multiple felony charges, including voter intimidation and conspiracy to commit an election law violation.

The pair filed a motion to have it dismissed; Circuit Court Judge Margaret VanHouten denied it on Feb. 23, records show.

Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman were arraigned in 36th District Court. The pair filed a motion to have the case dismissed, but Circuit Court Judge Margaret VanHouten denied it on Feb. 23, records show.

Burkman and Wohl appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals in March. Their application was denied Thursday, meaning the case heads trial, Nessel said in a statement.

“I applaud the Court of Appeals decision and my office stands ready to proceed with this case,” she said. “We remain committed to defending democracy against misinformation spread in an attempt to undermine our free and fair elections.” 

A trial date has not been set.  

Reached Friday night, attorneys for both men told The Detroit News they planned to take the case to the Michigan Supreme Court.

"We feel there is a valid freedom of speech issue that is present," said William Amadeo, a lawyer for Wohl. "Once our Supreme Court determines their interpretation on the law, the next step would be a review for trial.”

Attorney Scott Grabel, who represented Burkman, said: "Although I’m disappointed the Michigan Court of Appeals decided not to hear Mr. Burkman’s appeal I’m looking forward to filing a petition to the Michigan Supreme Court to address what I believe to be an egregious violation of Mr. Burkman’s constitutional rights. This battle is far from over."

Nessel's office first charged the men last fall, weeks after as many as 12,000 robocalls to Metro Detroiters discouraged mail-in voting by telling them their personal information would join a public database law enforcement officials and credit card companies use.

A recording of the call said it was made on behalf of Project 1599, a project spearheaded by Wohl, a conservative social media personality, and Burkman, a conservative operative.

Nessel’s office found that authorities in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois reported similar robocalls to residents in urban areas with significant minority populations. Investigators allege more than 85,000 messages were sent nationwide.

The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation filed a lawsuit on behalf of voters Burkman and Wohl allegedly targeted.

Days before the Nov. 3 presidential election, a federal judge ordered Wohl and Burkman to make curative calls dispelling the misinformation.