On Thursday in Michigan, Republican attorneys were back in court to request a review of the election results in the highly democratic county of Detroit – even after the state Supreme Court rejected an earlier request by the same group to suspend certification. A disgruntled city lawyer asked the judge to do something.
“You are trying to use this court in very, very inappropriate ways,” said Detroit city attorney David Fink. “We are calling on this court not only to refuse the requested relief, but to grant substantial sanctions because this has to stop.”
The Trump election watcher’s attorney replied, “I didn’t know I was posing such a threat to our republic by simply asking this court to enforce our constitutional law.”
The Michigan case is not isolated, and opponents say they view the relentless efforts as abusive. At least five new cases were filed on behalf of the President in the past week. At least 46 lawsuits against the 2020 presidential contest have now been filed between the Trump campaign and the president’s allies – many using the same recycled fraud claims and testimony.
And as more cases land on court records with blatant errors or evidence that judges have labeled anemic, legal experts told ABC News that even some slow-boiling judges may see no choice but to impose sanctions.
“You could see a court saying, ‘Enough is enough,” said Daniel I. Weiner, assistant director of electoral reform program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
A “post-truth environment”
Whether and when the blizzard of lawsuits will cross a line and be deemed abusive by a court is hard to predict, some legal experts told ABC News, but some say it now appears possible. Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, an expert on ethics rules, said there is a point at which a plaintiff could be reprimanded, especially if cases are repeatedly dismissed as unfaced – as has repeatedly been the case in Trump’s case is.
“Judges have the inherent power to fine attorneys who abuse the judicial system by making claims for which they have no reasonable substantive or legal basis,” said Gillers. “Is it done often? No. Is it unknown? No.”
Charles Gardner Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University’s Masons School of Law, said it was depressing for the president to export “this post-truth environment” into the courtroom. However, he doubts that the courts will go so far as to sanction lawyers who pose election challenges no matter how thin the evidence is.
Judges “don’t want to be perceived as overtly political,” said Geyh. “When you come across lawyers representing the president like a ton of rocks, they know how that is perceived.”
“Oddly enough, extreme”
Geyh said Powell’s cases alleging a global conspiracy to fake elections involving foreign oligarchs, Venezuelan dictators and a Colorado-based voting machine maker are “strangely extreme.”
“I think some of it will lead to discipline,” he said.
While judges have leeway to sanction attorneys during trial, the task of overseeing attorneys’ behavior falls more to the state bar associations. When lawyers “commit genuinely reckless or malicious behavior, you may be breaking the lawyer rules,” he said.
On November 20, New Jersey Democrat Rep. Bill Pascrell filed legal complaints in five states against nearly two dozen lawyers who worked on President Trump’s legal efforts to challenge the election. In his letter of complaint, he alleged that the lawyers had “engaged in conduct that was associated with dishonesty, fraud, deception or misrepresentation”.
Several legal experts said Powell may be uniquely susceptible to sanctions because of the number of errors in their records – some of which are egregious. Some of the most troubling ones, they said, came up on an election challenge she filed in federal court in Wisconsin earlier this week.
In this case, Powell asked a judge in Wisconsin to order the release of 48 hours of surveillance camera footage from the TCF Center – but the facility is actually in Michigan.
In another apparent gaffe, one of the named plaintiffs, Powell – unsuccessful Republican Congressional candidate Derrick Van Orden – said the case was filed on his behalf without his knowledge or consent.
“I’m not a fan of people who use my name without my permission,” Van Orden told ABC News after learning about the suit on social media. “Can you even manage it?”
When asked about the mistake, Powell told ABC News. “I am informed by a lawyer who has spoken to him that there appears to be a miscommunication.” Van Orden’s name has since been removed from the case and he told ABC News that he had no intentions to take legal action against Powell.
“If I were their attorney, I’d say cut it out,” said Gillers, the NYU expert. “Just stop because you’re on your way to lockdown.”
Trump’s legal team have claimed in speeches, interviews and on social media that they have compelling evidence of fraud to back up their legal efforts. But when they were pushed to bring it to court, they couldn’t deliver. The President blamed the courts for this.
“All we need is for a judge to hear it right without having a political opinion or any other problem,” Trump said last week.
The judges saw it differently. US District Judge Matthew Brann, a Republican, wrote that Trump’s legal acts contained only “speculative allegations”. A Trump-appointed third-circle appeals court representative, Judge Stephanos Bibas, was even less charitable and warned that “an unfair election will not lead to it”.
“Charges require specific allegations and then evidence,” Bibas said when he turned down a Trump suit. “We don’t have any here.”
ABC News’ Luke Barr contributed to this report.