A federal judge ordered two Colorado attorneys who filed frivolous lawsuits challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election to pay more than $186,000 to cover the legal fees of the entities they sued, including Facebook and Dominion Voting Systems.
Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter said lawyers Gary Fielder and Ernest John Walker tried to “manipulate gullible members of the public and foment public unrest” by filing a class action lawsuit asserting that executives at Facebook and Dominion worked with election officials to steal the election from Donald Trump.
Neureiter called the suit, which was dismissed in April, “an abuse of the legal system and an interference with the machinery of government.”
The “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,” Neureiter explained in his order, which was issued on Monday.
The Washington Post adds:
What’s more, Neureiter wrote, the hefty fees were appropriate given “the severity of the violation” and because the lawyers had solicited donations from the “arguably innocent and gullible public” to fund their suit. He said he weighed whether the penalties could chill future legitimate lawsuits but concluded that “the repetition of defamatory and potentially dangerous unverified allegations is the kind of ‘advocacy’ that needs to be chilled.”
“Neureiter ruled that the lawyers should pay $50,000 to Facebook and $62,930 to Dominion, as well as $62,930 to Center for Tech and Civil Life, an election reform advocacy organization,” according to Axios. An additional $11,000 is due to Pennsylvania and Michigan, which were also named in Fielder and Walker’s suit.
Neureiter issued a stay on his decision while Fielder and Walker appeal.
Neureiter’s earlier ruling was the first major consequence in federal court to befall lawyers and litigants who pushed Trump’s attempt to undermine the 2020 election result in court. Other courts are still considering penalties for other lawyers involved in the failed pro-Trump lawsuits.
In August, a federal judge in Michigan sanctioned pro-Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, as well as several other attorneys, ordering them to reimburse the attorneys’ fees that the city of Detroit and Michigan state officials paid in seeking the sanctions. The judge said the lawyers, who worked on Trump-aligned lawsuits seeking to challenge election results, had “engaged in litigation practices” that were “abusive and, in turn, sanctionable.”