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Federal judge: Trump campaign still hasn't served Benson with Michigan lawsuit

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Nearly a week after filing its case in federal court, the campaign of President Donald Trump has yet to serve Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson with a copy of the complaint and summons seeking to halt the canvassing process in Michigan. 

The campaign also has not filed a motion asking for immediate relief, a requirement that it needs to fulfill if Trump's campaign hopes to trigger an immediate halt to Wayne County's canvassing process. The county's canvassing board is set to meet Tuesday at 3 p.m. to certify its election results.

U.S. District Judge Janet Neff ordered the Trump campaign to serve the complaint and summons on Benson's office by 5 p.m. Tuesday or potentially face dismissal "for failure to diligently prosecute this case."

President Donald Trump in Grand Rapids on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.

"...despite have characterized their pleading as one requiring 'emergency' relief, plaintiffs have, to date, neither served their complaint on defendants nor filed any motions for immediate injunctive relief," Neff wrote in a Tuesday order. 

Mark "Thor" Hearne, the Trump campaign's lawyer in the Michigan lawsuit, said Tuesday that Benson, Wayne County, the Wayne County Board of Canvassers and the Michigan Board of State Canvassers have all been served the lawsuit electronically. 

But the campaign was unable to serve the parties in person because their buildings were closed, Hearne said. He hopes to do so Tuesday.

"We've arranged to that to happen," he said.

The campaign also has motions for a temporary restraining order and injunctive relief ready, but will likely serve those after Tuesday's Wayne County canvassing meeting in an effort to stop the state canvassing process, Hearne said. 

The request by Neff comes less than two week's after Trump's separate case in the Michigan Court of Appeals was given a similar ultimatum after it failed to file paperwork such as a lower court docket, register of actions, a transcript of the lower court hearing and additional copies of the campaign's brief.

Hearne eventually filed the paperwork before filing on Nov. 10 a more expansive lawsuit on behalf of the campaign in federal court. 

Hearne's initial filing in federal court last week was filed accidentally in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims instead of Michigan's Western U.S. District Court. Hearne eventually withdrew the complaint and filed in the Western District. 

Neff's Tuesday order granted Michigan's NAACP, the Democratic National Committee, the Michigan Democratic Party and city of Detroit permission to intervene in the case. 

Those parties on Tuesday immediately filed a motion to dismiss the case.

In a separate case challenging the Wayne County canvass, a Michigan Court of Appeals panel Monday night denied an appeal of a Wayne County Circuit Court rejection of the case. 

The Great Lakes Justice Center, which filed on behalf of Detroit poll challengers, appealed Tuesday to the Michigan Supreme Court seeking an independent audit of the Wayne County election results before the 3 p.m. Tuesday meeting of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers. 

Both lawsuits allege GOP poll challengers were excluded from and harassed at absentee ballot counting boards at the TCF Center in Detroit and make various allegations regarding ballot counting irregularities in Detroit. 

City and state officials have denied each of the allegation, noting they are based on a lack of understanding of the absent voter ballot processing and tabulation process. 

Election officials have said they allowed the maximum number of poll watchers for both Democrats and Republicans, only restricting access to any additional poll watchers because of COVID-19 concerns.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com