- A pair of Colorado lawyers were fined $US187,000 ($AU259,100) over a failed lawsuit challenging the 2020 election.
- A judge slammed them for not properly investigating their claims. They appealed the decision.
- They now have to contribute towards legal fees of defendants they accused of election-rigging.
A judge ordered two lawyers to pay $US187,000 ($AU259,100) towards the legal fees of the companies and organizations they accused, unsuccessfully, of rigging the 2020 election.
Lawyers Gary D. Fielder and Ernest John Walker filed their class-action suit in December 2020.
It accused a group of tech companies, nonprofits, and politicians of conspiring to unlawfully snatch away a Trump election victory, according to court documents seen by Insider. The case was dismissed in April.
The fine, ordered on Tuesday, is one of the first times a financial penalty has been attached to a rebuke of the mass of lawsuits seeking to undermine President Joe Biden’s election win.
The payment was a reminder of the lawyers’ “higher duty” not to advance poorly investigated claims that “strike at the heart of our democratic system,” Judge N. Reid Neureiter wrote in court documents released Monday and seen by Insider.
Fielder and Walker are challenging both the sanction and the case’s dismissal, calling the fine “unfathomable.”
Their crowdfunded lawsuit accused figures like Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as well as Dominion Voting Systems. There is no evidence that any of them interfered in the election.
The lawyers, calling their case the “largest civil rights class action in history,” sought $US1,000 ($AU1,386) compensation for every registered voter in the US, which would run to some $US160 ($AU222) billion.
Neureiter found it so frivolous that he brought Fielder and Walker into a hearing and called the case “fantastical” and “the stuff of which violent insurrections are made,” as Insider’s Jacob Shamsian reported.
Accusing the lawyers of working in bad faith, the judge wrote that the pair had not thoroughly investigated the claims and had created a “cut-and-paste” job from similar lawsuits, such as those filed by Sidney Powell, which also failed in court.
In a lengthy conversation with Insider in July, he insisted he and Walker were working in good faith. Nonetheless, Neureiter sanctioned the pair in August, kicking off the process leading up to Tuesday’s fine.
As of August 27, Fielder and Walker agreed to a combined fine of $US11,062.50 ($AU15,328) to cover the legal costs of a number of Pennsylvania and Michigan public officials named in the lawsuit, including Whitmer, court documents show.
But the pair appealed the much larger fines, totalling $US186,922 ($AU258,992), towards the legal fees of Facebook, Dominion and the election-reform nonprofit the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL).
In their defense, the lawyers said that if their case was so absurd, the defendants should not have spent so much on their own legal fees, suggesting that $US10,000 ($AU13,856) each as a maximum.
Neureiter disagreed, noting that these defendants had to retain high-profile — and expensive — lawyers due to the seriousness of the accusations being made.
He also pointed out that the lawyers had funded their case by crowdfunding from “arguably innocent and gullible” members of the public, and never hired the experts they claimed they would.
“As officers of the court, these attorneys have a higher duty and calling that requires meaningful investigation before prematurely repeating in court pleadings unverified and uninvestigated defamatory rumors that strike at the heart of our democratic system and were used by others to foment a violent insurrection that threatened our system of government,” the judge wrote.
The order may have a chilling effect on future cases, Neureiter said — but said this was “the kind of ‘advocacy’ that needs to be chilled.”
Fielder told Insider he found the decision “unfathomable,” repeating the claims, that have been rejected in court, that the defendants had “clearly interfered” with the election.
“We are not going to stop fighting for the rights of the people to vote in free and fair Presidential elections,” he added.
“This is the cross to die on.”