‘This is really fantastical’: Federal judge blasts pro-Trump attorneys, hints at sanctions 

By: - July 12, 2021 7:04 pm

Trump counter-protest of Bernie Sanders car rally for Joe Biden in Warren, Michigan, Oct. 6, 2020 | Andrew Roth

DETROIT — In a six-hour long hearing on Monday, U.S. District Judge Linda Parker in the Eastern District of Michigan blasted the “Kraken” litigation team’s sworn affidavits claiming unsubstantiated instances of voter fraud in Michigan’s 2020 general election and signified sanctions requested by state officials are a strong possibility. 

Sanctions are allowed when attorney’s submit frivolous or baseless arguments.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has urged Parker to sanction the attorneys on behalf of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary Jocelyn Benson and fine them roughly $11,000. The city of Detroit is also attempting to sanction the lawyers.

Donald Trump attorney Sidney Powell

Whitmer, Nessel and Benson have also sought to disbar the lead pro-former President Donald Trump attorney, Sidney Powell, and her colleagues for violating ethics in filing a case to undermine the election. 

Powell and her co-counsel sued Michigan officials following the 2020 general election alleging election fraud in an attempt to overturn the results. Parker originally rejected the challenge. 

Now-President Joe Biden defeated former president Donald Trump in Michigan by more than 154,000 votes. Numerous election audits and a GOP-led Senate Oversight Committee report have confirmed there was no widespread election fraud.

In a statement following the hearing, Benson said the courts in Michigan and across the country have a duty to uphold the integrity of U.S. elections and dismiss baseless claims made by groups like the team of pro-Trump lawyers.

Nessel, Whitmer, Benson push for disbarment of pro-Trump lawyers who brought ‘frivolous’ ‘Kraken’ lawsuit

“If we allow their willful misleading of the public and their purposeful attacks on our democracy go unchecked, then we all lose,” Benson said. “Actions have consequences. We will continue working alongside the courts and Attorney General Nessel to see the men and women who attempted to deceive the American public by spreading misinformation are held accountable for those falsehoods, and face theirs.” 

“Kraken” is a reference to an octopus-like mythical sea monster. The team dubbed themselves that after they unsuccessfully tried to overturn election results in Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia. 

Parker’s decision to sanction the team of attorneys will likely come within a few weeks. A separate order will also allow additional briefs to be filed. 

Parker focused on questioning the affidavits sent in by the pro-Trump attorneys, saying the Kraken attorneys did “minimal due diligence” after asking the team if they thoroughly investigated the claims of voter fraud in Michigan before attempting to use the sworn affidavits to overturn the 2020 election results. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an affidavit that makes so many leaps. This is really fantastical,” Parker said. “So my question to counsel here is: How could any of you as officers of the court present this affidavit?”

The affidavits have been found to be riddled with errors, with one affidavit including an inaccurate description of affiant’s Joshua Merritt’s time in the military, as reported by the Washington Post. Another affidavit cited a non-existent county in Michigan.

Powell originally tried to keep the identities of the signers hidden from the public in fear of “harassment, threats and coercion should their identities become public knowledge.” 

Parker denied that request.

Court proceedings on sanctions for pro-Trump lawyers, July 12, 2021 | Screenshot

Powell said in the hearing that if she were given the chance, she would do everything the same. Powell said the 960 pages of signed affidavits “reflect how seriously [they] took this matter.” 

“We have practiced law with the highest standards,” Powell said. “We would follow the same complaints again. We welcome an opportunity to actually prove our case. No court has ever given us that opportunity.”

David Fink, a lawyer for the city of Detroit, emphasized that the lawyers should receive sanctions and “should never again be allowed to appear in a court in our jurisdiction, or frankly anywhere else.” He also credited the Kraken team’s lawsuits with inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol. 

“Because of the lies spread in this courtroom, not only did people die on Jan. 6 but many people throughout the world… came to doubt the strength of democratic institutions in this country,” Fink said.

Fink also recommended that the lawyers be disbarred and punished for their behavior in order to prevent future misconduct by attorneys. 

Lin Wood, a pro-Trump attorney who presented legal challenges to the election in various other states, claimed numerous times that he did have any  involvement in the Michigan case. He said he only found out about his name being placed on the case through newspaper articles. 

Judge rejects pro-Trump lawyers’ request to skip sanctions hearing 

Fink noted that Wood received a notification in his email and by mail in December, with the option then to withdraw from the proceedings. 

Following the hearing, Michigan Attorney General Nessel slammed the pro-Trump attorneys for refusing to recognize the damage they have caused throughout the lawsuit. 

“There is a big difference between responsibly advocating for a client and recklessly leveraging legal authority to perpetuate meritless arguments,” Nessel said. “As attorneys, we must uphold the oath we took to support the Constitution—not abuse it. I appreciate Judge Parker’s diligence in handling our motion and remain confident our request for sanctions will be granted.” 

The hearing was originally scheduled for last Tuesday, but Parker moved the date to accommodate the holiday schedule of Stefanie Junttila, one of the team’s lawyers. The Kraken team then requested to not appear at the hearing and only have their lawyer represent them. The request was rejected by Parker, and each attorney was made to personally attend the hearing via Zoom. 

The pro-Trump attorneys contended the sanctions requests were “political retribution.” The team’s filing was full of spelling errors, formatting issues and credited baseless conspiracy theories as its legal backing. 

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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.