“Colorado lawyers who filed election lawsuit must pay rivals’ fees”

From the Associated Press:

A federal magistrate on Wednesday levied penalties against two Colorado attorneys for filing a class-action lawsuit that alleged the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump.

The now-dismissed suit relied on baseless conspiracy theories spread by the former president and his supporters. It named elected officials in four swing states, Facebook, the company’s founder Mark Zuckerberg and Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems, whose election machines were at the center of some of the most fevered speculation.

Magistrate Judge N. Reid Nureiter ruled that the two attorneys who filed the lawsuit must pay the legal fees of the defendants.

And from Politico, “Judge sanctions lawyers for bringing 2020 election conspiracy lawsuit.”

The federal magistrate judge’s 68-page opinion and order in O’Rourke v. Dominion Voting Systems, Inc. is here. I’ll excerpt the conclusions from the end of the opinion below the jump.

This lawsuit in particular was among the later actions–it was filed December 22, well after presidential electors had voted.

The opening of the magistrate judge’s finding that sanctions are appropriate turns on a lack of standing, which was the basis for the original dismissal. That is, the magistrate judge concludes that the attorneys should have known that “a class action brought on behalf of all American registered voters” suing Dominion Voting Systems, Facebook, and election officials in several states, among others, was a “generalized grievance,” and generalized grievances about the conduct of an election “cannot be the basis for a federal lawsuit.” Other problems included suing state officials who the attorneys knew could not be sued; failing to adequately investigate factual claims despite the time and opportunity to do so; and “Plaintiffs’ counsel acted with objective bad faith in filing this lawsuit and dumping into a public federal court pleading allegations of a RICO conspiracy that were utterly unmerited by any evidence.”

For the reasons stated above, I find the following:

(1) That this lawsuit was filed in bad faith;

(2) That Plaintiffs’ counsel’s legal contention that the Plaintiffs had Article III standing to bring this suit was not warranted by existing law or a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or establishing new law. To the contrary, I find that Plaintiffs’ counsel’s arguments on the issue of standing frivolous;

(3) That Plaintiffs’ counsel’s act of filing a lawsuit in Colorado against state officials from Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin was not warranted by existing law or a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or establishing new law. To the contrary, it was obvious that there was no personal jurisdiction in Colorado over these defendants and suit against these state officials should never have been filed in Colorado;

(4) That, in light of the unusual and highly volatile circumstances of this case and the surrounding political environment, Plaintiffs’ counsel did not conduct a reasonable inquiry into whether the factual contentions had evidentiary support. Without doing any independent confirmation via, for example, the hiring of experts, or speaking to lawyers who had filed other failed lawsuits, they improperly accepted allegations from those suits and from media reports at face value and cut and pasted them into their Complaint and Amended Complaint;

(5) That because of its inherent legal flaws and the inadequate inquiry into the factual allegations by Plaintiffs’ counsel, this lawsuit should never have been filed in the first place or, using the Tenth Circuit’s test, no “reasonable attorney admitted to practice before the district court would file such a document[”];

(6) That Plaintiffs’ counsel’s filing of a motion for leave to amend, without addressing the obvious fatal problems with standing and lack of personal jurisdiction, while attempting to add RICO claims based on a TIME magazine article that provided no support for such claims, was a violation of 28 U.S.C. § 1927 in that the attempt to amend unreasonably and vexatiously multiplied the proceedings;

(7) That Plaintiffs’ counsel improperly included in a federal complaint highly disputed and inflammatory statements by the former President stating categorically that “DOMINION DELETED 2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES NATIONWIDE” without doing anything to independently verify the truth of that statement;

(8) That sanctions are merited under Rule 11 (except with respect to Pennsylvania) and 28 U.S.C. § 1927.

(9) That sanctions are further merited under this Court’s inherent authority because of the bad faith nature of the filing of the suit that Plaintiffs’ counsel knew or should have known was doomed to failure from the very beginning; and

(10) That sanctions are required to deter the filing of frivolous, politically motivated lawsuits such as this in the future and to compensate the Defendants for the unnecessary expenditure of private and public money in defense of a frivolous lawsuit filed without reasonable legal basis and without a reasonable inquiry into the facts.

For the foregoing reasons, it is HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiffs’ counsel shall jointly and severally pay the moving Defendants’ reasonable attorneys for (1) having to prepare and argue the motions to dismiss, and (2) having to prepare and argue the oppositions to the Motion for Leave to Amend.

To justify an award of attorneys’ fees and expenses, the party seeking such an award normally must provide the Court with time and expense records, specifying for each attorney who performed work on the matter, the date, hours expended and the nature of the work performed. Fees and expenses must be both necessary and reasonable.

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