Sunday, August 14, 2022

Despite rebukes, Trump’s legal brigade is thriving

Juli Haller was part of Donald Trump’s legal brigade in Michigan, filing a lawsuit alongside the ubiquitous Sidney Powell that claimed absentee vote counts were likely manipulated by a computer algorithm developed by allies of deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez.

The lawsuit was quickly deemed baseless, and she was among nine attorneys ordered by a federal judge to pay the city of Detroit and state of Michigan’s legal fees and referred for possible disbarment. In a blistering rebuke, Judge Linda V. Parker called it a “historic and profound abuse of the judicial process.”

But unlike Rudy Giuliani, whose law license was suspended in New York and Washington, D.C., for championing similar cases, or Haller’s own co-counsel, Powell, whose law license is at risk in Texas, Haller is going strong. She has gained a robust client roster that includes two alleged members of the far-right vigilante group the Oath Keepers who are accused of fueling the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Haller’s trajectory — from rebuked purveyor of baseless claims to a go-to attorney for MAGA extremists — infuriates many liberal activists, including some groups who are targeting the lawyers for discipline, and alarms some nonpartisan specialists in legal ethics. They say those who helped legitimize the former president’s lies should not be allowed to use it as a foundation to build their legal practices, lest it serve as an incentive to profit from ever more outlandish claims that shake the confidence of Americans in the integrity of U.S. elections and endanger democracy.

In total, at least 16 lawyers who represented plaintiffs in five federal lawsuits promoting Trump’s baseless election fraud claims in the key battlegrounds of Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin and Arizona remain in good standing or have no record of disciplinary action with their respective bar associations or licensing authorities, according to a WEBICNEWS review.

Fourteen of them have since engaged in additional work in support of the election fraud conspiracies or conspiracists behind Trump’s attempt to remain in power despite losing the election to President Joe Biden. These include defending accused Jan. 6 rioters, consulting for partisan election “audits” or partaking in advocacy or legal cases sowing doubts about the integrity of the nation’s elections, WEBICNEWS found.

Powell and Giuliani are the most well-known national legal voices who promoted conspiracies fueling the violent attack on the Capitol. Efforts to reach them were unsuccessful.

Powell, in November of 2020, said she would “release the Kraken” by providing evidence of widespread voting fraud proving Trump won the election. In fact, all of the suits were dismissed within days by judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents. But in the process, Giuliani and Powell brought together a pool of attorneys who were willing to push Trump’s lies into court.

Now, however, many legal experts consider this network of attorneys a risk to future orderly elections administration and argue monetary penalties are an insufficient deterrent, simply because the lawyers involved can easily raise funds from disgruntled Trump supporters who may believe and are eager to spread the election lies.

“These lawyers have to be stopped from practicing law. It’s that simple,” asserts David Fink, an attorney leading the charge to disbar the attorneys in Michigan, including Haller. “They disregarded their oath, they told lies to the court and they spread the ‘Big Lie,’” said Fink.

In arguing that monetary fines are not sufficient deterrent, Fink cited a report that Powell raised $14 million by spreading baseless claims about election fraud, including through the lawsuits.

Fink is aligned with The 65 Project, a new bipartisan group spending millions to try to disbar 100 lawyers who worked on Trump’s post-election lawsuits. Its initial round of ethics complaints targeted top names on Trump’s team, filed with their respective state bars in March. The group is now gearing up to file a wave of complaints against lesser-known attorneys who filed legal cases on baseless evidence, Michael Teter, the group’s director, confirmed.

It’s unclear how many state bar associations are pursuing any kind of disciplinary action, or whether they have rejected complaints, because most require that investigations remain confidential. Most states that do provide disciplinary records online only post the final opinions or orders.

WEBICNEWS contacted bar associations or regulatory boards responsible for disciplinary actions in Washington, D.C., Michigan and Wisconsin, where a number of the lawyers are registered. They all declined to comment, citing confidentiality rules.

In addition to being one of nine attorneys who represented plaintiffs in the Michigan case, Haller was involved in four similar cases dismissed in other states, including as a “lead” attorney in Arizona, according to the court docket. Similar to the Michigan case, the Arizona suit raised questions about ballot tampering and hacked voting machines, including a statement attributed to an alleged former military intelligence expert only identified as Spider. A judge dismissed it without a hearing, stating plaintiffs were “sorely wanting of relevant or reliable evidence.”

In an appellate brief filed last February in Michigan, the attorneys involved in that case stated they are targets of a partisan smear campaign.

“A Democrat Governor, a Democrat Secretary of State, and a Democrat Attorney General have joined a Democrat-appointed, Democrats-confirmed judge to ask a disciplinary body appointed and superintended by a Democrat-controlled state entity to kill the careers of Republican lawyers for advancing what is a mainstream Republican position on the 2020 Presidential Election.”

Although judges reviewed written claims and documentation before dismissing her cases, Haller argues her team never got to make its case before the judge in Arizona, similar to what happened in other cases.

“There were no evidentiary hearings held, and an old expression, ‘Absence of Justice leads to Strife’ comes to mind; just ask the George Floyd protesters about that. I personally had nothing to do with Jan. 6,” she said in response to emailed questions from WEBICNEWS.

In next-door Wisconsin, Michael Dean was the lead attorney for plaintiffs in a Wisconsin case alleging fraud via “ballot-stuffing.” Dean’s team sought to decertify election results, declare Trump the winner and impound Dominion voting machines.

In dismissing the case, Judge Pamela Pepper stated: “Federal judges do not appoint the president in this country. One wonders why the plaintiffs came to federal court and asked a federal judge to do so.” Dean has been representing former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who is conducting a partisan audit of Wisconsin’s 2020 election results and has called for decertifying the state’s Electoral College votes after accusing Democratic leaders of large cities of fraud.

Such audits are a way of continuing the fight over 2020, even after courts have dismissed the cases. They have emerged as another source of work for pro-Trump attorneys.

Dean did not respond to a request for comment.

David Levine, a former Boise, Idaho, elections director, is among those in support of harsher punishment for lawyers who continue to fan the flames of election controversies long after they’ve been discredited. Levine is now a fellow for election integrity at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, part of the German Marshall Fund, a nonpartisan policy organization.

“If these folks aren’t held accountable, they’ll feel emboldened to continue to engage in actions that not only erode trust in the legal profession and integrity of elections but endanger lives of the American people,” he said.

“We saw in 2020 how false election information could not only fuel an insurrection but cause bodily harm and loss of lives,” said Levine. “After Watergate, we saw the legal profession be at the forefront of ethics reform. It’s dramatically different from what we’re seeing here,” he said.