Judge sanctions lawyers looking to overturn 2020 election with "copy and paste" lawsuit

Federal judge calls pair's dubious class-action filing as "the stuff of which violent insurrections are made"

By Igor Derysh
Published August 5, 2021 2:57PM (EDT)
Former US President Donald Trump (ANDY JACOBSOHN/AFP via Getty Images)
Former US President Donald Trump (ANDY JACOBSOHN/AFP via Getty Images)

A federal judge on Wednesday sanctioned two Colorado lawyers for filing a "fantastical" class-action lawsuit baselessly alleging a conspiracy to steal the 2020 presidential election from former President Donald Trump.

Attorneys Gary Fielder and Ernest John Walker filed a class-action lawsuit in December on behalf of all 160 American voters against election officials in four states, voting machine manufacturer Dominion Voting Systems, Facebook, its founder Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife Priscilla Chan, seeking $160 billion in damages over what they claimed was a conspiracy to steal the election.

The lawsuit was dismissed in April and Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter on Tuesday ordered the two attorneys to pay the legal fees of the defendants, calling the entire complaint "one enormous conspiracy theory."

In a 68-page opinion, Neureiter knocked the attorneys for purporting to represent all registered voters and for demanding a "massive amount of money, likely greater than any money damage award in American history."

Though the lawsuit did not seek to reverse the election result, the judge wrote, "the effect of the allegations and relief sought would be to sow doubt over the legitimacy of the Biden presidency and the mechanisms of American democracy (the actual systems of voting) in numerous states." Neureiter also warned that the "highly inflammatory and damaging allegations" could have "put individuals' safety in danger," citing the January 6 Capitol riot and threats against election officials and Dominion employees.

"Doing so without a valid legal basis or serious independent personal investigation into the facts was the height of recklessness," he wrote.

"In short, this was no slip-and-fall at the local grocery store," he added. "Albeit disorganized and fantastical, the Complaint's allegations are extraordinarily serious and, if accepted as true by large numbers of people, are the stuff of which violent insurrections are made."

The judge criticized the pair for echoing Trump's election lies without trying to verify the statements, noting that former Attorney General Bill Barr and other Trump administration officials have confirmed there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the election. He also said the lawyers filed a "copy and paste" complaint lifting allegations from other Trumpworld lawsuits and should have realized "the lawsuits from which they were copying had failed."

Fielder told The Washington Post that the pair plans to appeal the order.

"We were never acting in bad faith," he said in a statement, arguing that "the case has nothing to do with Donald Trump, and is concerned only with the integrity of our Presidential elections."

Walker argued in court last month that it was "offensive" to them that the judge suggested the two did not research the case, insisting that "we took this case seriously." Fielder argued that the two filed the lawsuit in "good faith" based on theories pushed by other lawyers and Trump allies, including MyPillow founder Mike Lindell.

"These are serious allegations, made by serious people," he said.

While every election lawsuit brought by Trump and his allies failed in court, the Colorado case underscores the perils facing attorneys who filed the dubious complaints.

Former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was stiffed on his legal fees by Trump after failing to reverse his loss, had his law license suspended in New York and Washington DC. He also faces lawsuits from Dominion and another voting technology company, Smartmatic, for pushing baseless allegations that they were involved in a global conspiracy to switch votes from Trump to President Joe Biden.

A panel of judges who revoked Giuliani's New York license said he made "demonstrably false and misleading statements" in his post-election crusade and "directly inflamed" tensions leading up to the Capitol riot, calling his actions an "immediate threat" to the public.

Other Trumpworld attorneys like Sidney Powell and Lin Wood could also face court sanctions after they were chewed out by a federal judge in Michigan last month. Powell, Wood, and others filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Trump's loss in Michigan citing numerous affidavits that District Judge Linda Parker said included obvious errors and misunderstandings about how elections are run. Parker said she was "concerned" that the affidavits were "submitted in bad faith" and questioned why the lawyers had failed to do even "minimal due diligence."

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has also launched an investigation into attorneys and others that pushed election lies to enrich themselves after a report from Republican state Sen. Ed McBroom found "potentially fraudulent activity" by Trump allies but no actual voter fraud in the election.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers has also filed a court motion calling for Powell and others to face financial sanctions over a lawsuit seeking to overturn Trump's loss in the state, arguing the complaint "did not outline coherent legal claims so much as it flitted among a variety of fringe conspiracy theories."

"There is no doubt that Plaintiff and his attorneys brought this lawsuit and litigated in bad faith," the filing said. "Unconscionably, they did so for the purpose of sowing doubt about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, with a goal of disenfranchising nearly 3.3 million Wisconsin voters."


Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: iderysh@salon.com Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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Aggregate Donald Trump Joe Biden Lin Wood Politics Rudy Giuliani Sidney Powell