Sidney Powell's statements were 'legally opinion,' Michigan Republicans' attorney says

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — An attorney representing six Michigan Republicans who sought to overturn the state's election says claims made in the effort by conservative lawyer Sidney Powell were "opinion" in the eyes of the law.

Attorney Stefanie Lambert Junttila laid out that argument in a filing Friday night as a group of Republican lawyers faces a push for sanctions in Michigan's Eastern District federal court.

"Indeed, based on case law, Ms. Powell's statements are not legally considered 'fact,' Junttila wrote. "Rather, by placing her statements in the broad and specific context of political debate, there are legally considered 'opinion.'"

Attorney Sidney Powell

Earlier this month, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel asked a federal judge to consider Powell's response to a $1.3 billion defamation suit from Dominion Voting Systems in deciding whether to sanction her for the lawsuit that challenged Michigan's election results.

Nessel's office has sought $11,071 in attorneys' fees to be awarded to the state as part of the sanctions push.

In defending herself against the Dominion suit, Powell said "no reasonable person" could conclude her statements about Dominion were "truly statements of fact." Powell also said it was the court's responsibility, not hers, to investigate the truth of the statements. 

The statements, Nessel wrote previously, "go to the heart" of the argument for sanctions against Powell, who was among the attorneys who represented Michigan Republicans who asked a judge to require that former 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 Democrat Joe Biden by 3 percentage points or 154,000 votes.

Powell "all but admits that she and her co-counsel here have engaged in sanctionable conduct before this court," Nessel wrote earlier this month. "...That approach to litigation is sanctionable under any standard."

In her filing Friday night, Junttila countered that Nessel should be sanctioned, adding that the attorney general's office had filed a "frivolous brief" based on "the intentional misrepresentation of a legal argument."

"Powell's statements would not be actionable for defamation because she disclosed the underlying facts supporting her statements, and her statements were legally opinion," Junttila wrote of Powell's argument.

She added that "there is no admission by Ms. Powell in the Dominion Action that the facts presented to this court were false or non-believable," and "there is no admission that Ms. Powell failed to investigate the facts before bringing this case."

Powell was involved in failed election challenges in multiple swing states. She once described her legal effort as releasing the "kraken."

On Dec. 7, Detroit U.S. District Court Judge Linda Parker of Michigan's Eastern District rejected the Michigan Republicans' lawsuit, saying the effort aimed to "ignore the will of millions of voters."

In February, Nessel, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, three Democrats who are lawyers themselves, filed complaints, seeking to have attorneys Greg Rohl, Scott Hagerstrom, Junttila and Powell disbarred over their involvement in the election litigation.

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.