As the crazy coming out of the White House intensifies, a question lawyers are asking each other is: why aren’t the courts sanctioning the lawyers who are bringing these clearly frivolous election lawsuits?
Even judges that Trump appointed are ruling against him, and that’s certainly comforting. But most practicing lawyers would expect a reprimand or even disbarment for behaviors similar to those that have been displayed by Rudy Giuliani and crew.
At least the courts have uniformly dismissed the wild allegations of these lawsuits, and that consistency means that even if these sleazy lawyers escape retribution, a couple of threatened lawsuits by election technology companies promise to hit their counterparts in the dishonest right-wing media where they will hurt–in their pocketbooks.
Rudy Giuliani has suggested that one company, Dominion Voting Systems, had a sinister connection to vote counts in “Michigan, Arizona and Georgia and other states.” Giuliani further tweeted that the company “was a front for SMARTMATIC, who was really doing the computing. Look up SMARTMATIC and tweet me what you think?”
Sidney Powell is out there saying that states like Texas, they turned away from Dominion machines, because really there’s only one reason why you buy a Dominion machine and you buy this Smartmatic software, so you can easily change votes,” the Newsmax host Chris Salcedo said in one typical mash-up on Nov. 18. Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business reported on Nov. 15 that “one source says that the key point to understand is that the Smartmatic system has a backdoor.”
These wild allegations finally tried the patience of the companies being smeared. As it happens, Smartmatic wasn’t even used by the contested states. The company is a major global player, but it pulled out of the United States in 2007, due to a controversy over its founders’ Venezuelan roots. Its only U.S. contract in November was a consulting arrangement with Los Angeles County.
Last week, Smartmatic’s lawyer sent demand letters to Fox News, Newsmax and OAN, demanding that they “immediately and forcefully” clear his company’s name. He also demanded that they retain documents for a planned defamation lawsuit.
According to legal experts, Smartmatic has an unusually strong case. And evidently, an equally strong lawyer, J. Erik Connolly. Connolly won the largest settlement in the history of American media defamation in 2017, when he represented a beef producer whose “lean finely textured beef” was described by ABC News as “pink slime.”
Now, Mr. Connolly’s target is a kind of red slime, the stream of preposterous lies coming from the White House and Republican officials around the country.
“We’ve gotten to this point where there’s so much falsity that is being spread on certain platforms, and you may need an occasion where you send a message, and that’s what punitive damages can do in a case like this,” Mr. Connolly said.
Dominion Voting Systems has also hired a high-profile libel lawyer, Tom Clare, who is also threatening legal action against Ms. Powell and the Trump campaign.
Mr. Clare said in an emailed statement that “we are moving forward on the basis that she will not retract those false statements and that it will be necessary for Dominion to take aggressive legal action, both against Ms. Powell and the many others who have enabled and amplified her campaign of defamation by spreading damaging falsehoods about Dominion.”
Those “enablers” include Fox News, Newsmax and OAN. As the article points out,
Newsmax and OAN appear likely to face the same fate as so many of President Trump’s sycophants, who have watched him lie with impunity and imitated him — only to find that he’s the only one who can really get away with it. Mr. Trump benefits from presidential immunity, but also he has an experienced fabulist’s sense of where the legal red lines are, something his allies often lack.
“Fabulist” means liar.
OAN and Newsmax have hyped the Trump campaign’s ridiculous election claims. OAN has even refused to call Joe Biden the president-elect. Both are relatively small enterprises, and a successful lawsuit over their roles in Trump’s disinformation/conspiracy campaign could destroy them. Such lawsuits probably wouldn’t destroy Fox, but they could certainly inflict damage.
According to the report, Fox News and Fox Business have mentioned Dominion 792 times and Smartmatic 118 times between them. They’ve already begun to backtrack, airing a “corrective” segment on shows hosted by Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro and Maria Bartiromo.
Probably too little, too late.
This damaging, unethical behavior is why we have defamation laws and punitive damages.
I wonder what would happen to the “usual suspects”–the sources of consistently dishonest rightwing propaganda– if everyone they lied about sued them. Maybe we need a nonprofit legal organization that would represent people and organizations who’ve been libeled but can’t afford to sue..
I’d donate to that!