Sidney Powell, team ordered to pay $175,250 in fees for Michigan election case

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Attorney Sidney Powell and other lawyers who unsuccessfully sought to overturn Michigan's 2020 election will have to pay $175,250 in legal fees under a court order issued Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Linda Parker of Michigan's Eastern District said the penalty was "an appropriate sanction" and "an amount the court finds needed to deter plaintiffs’ counsel and others from engaging in similar misconduct in the future."

"Plaintiffs’ attorneys, many of whom seek donations from the public to fund lawsuits like this one ... have the ability to pay this sanction," Parker wrote.

Attorney Sidney Powell, a member of President Donald Trump's legal team, speaks during a rally on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Alpharetta, Ga.

The decision awards $153,285.62 to the City of Detroit, the state's largest city and a Democratic stronghold that became a hotbed for false and unproven claims about voter fraud, and $21,964.75 to the state of Michigan.

The nine attorneys involved in bringing the election case — Powell, L. Lin Wood, Howard Kleinhendler, Gregory Rohl, Stefanie Lynn Junttila, Emily Newman, Julia Z. Haller, Brandon Johnson and Scott Hagerstrom — must jointly pay the amounts within 30 days, according to Parker's order. That's an unless there's an appeal.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson welcomed Parker's ruling.

“The awarding of fees further holds accountable the attorneys who worked to distort our democracy in favor of lining their own pockets,” Nessel said in a statement. “These attorneys demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the law and attempted to use the courts to further a false and destructive narrative.  While there is likely no amount of money that can undo the damage they caused, I am happy to see these sanctions handed down.”   

“There are consequences to filing meritless lawsuits to grab media attention and mislead Americans,” Benson added. “The sanctions awarded in this case are a testament to that, even if the dollar amounts pale in comparison to the damage that’s already been done to our nation’s democracy.” 

Parker's decision could mark the end of a legal saga that began 372 days earlier on the eve of Thanksgiving 2020. On Nov. 25, 2020, six Republicans filed a lawsuit that wanted the court to overturn President Joe Biden's win in the state based on a bevy of conspiracy theories and claims contradicted by election experts.

The suit seeking to overturn the election represented "a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process," the judge wrote in her August decision to require sanctions against the lawyers who worked on the effort. The case sought to deceive the federal court and Americans "into believing that rights were infringed, without regard to whether any laws or rights were in fact violated."

Parker previously required a copy of her sanctions decision be sent to state disciplinary boards for the possible suspension or disbarment of the nine attorneys involved in the suit. Parker ordered the lawyers to complete 12 hours of continuing legal education in pleading standards and election law.

Attorneys have an obligation to present "only tenable claims" with due diligence and in good faith, the judge ruled. But the attorneys in the election case presented claims backed by neither evidence nor law, she wrote.

In September, the state and city detailed in court filings how much they spent to fight the high-profile and unsuccessful suit that aimed to have Republican Donald Trump named Michigan's winner despite the fact he lost by 154,000 votes to Democrat Joe Biden.

Their initial tallies equaled $204,156. Parker reduced Detroit’s award by $28,906.38, mostly because the city's initial number included work related to an appeal.

Parker's decision affects two of the most vocal promoters nationally of false claims about the 2020 election: Powell of Texas and Wood of Georgia. Powell was involved in multiple cases across the country, an effort she described as releasing the "kraken."

Powell has criticized the push to sanction her and said it's "the duty of lawyers" to raise "difficult and even unpopular issues." Wood had tried to distance himself from the Michigan case, saying he wasn't aware of his involvement until he read a media report about the potential sanctions he faced.

Junttila and Hagerstrom are two of the Michigan-based attorneys in the case. Junttila also pushed for a "forensic analysis" of election results in Cheboygan County. Hagerstrom, a longtime GOP political consultant, has been a supporter of Trump in Michigan for years and once campaigned to be the state Republican Party's chairman before dropping out of the race.

In response to Thursday's order, Hagerstrom said the public "is more concerned about inflation, cost of living and the incompetence of this president and his administration."

"I am more concerned about those things myself as a father of four," Hagerstrom said. "If Virginia is any indication, Michigan will potentially be taking a huge U-turn next year politically."