Two attorneys have been ordered to pay nearly $187,000 in legal fees after unsuccessfully challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election in a lawsuit that a federal judge called “defamatory,” an “abuse of the legal system” and a means to foment violence.
In a ruling issued Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter ordered attorneys Gary D. Fielder and Ernest John Walker to cover the legal fees incurred by Facebook, the voting company Dominion, the nonprofit the Center for Tech and Civic Life, and officials with the states of Pennsylvania and Michigan.
“Counsel should think long and hard, and do significant pre-filing research and verification, before ever filing a lawsuit like this again,” Neureiter said. “This lawsuit has been an abuse of the legal system and an interference with the machinery of government.”
Fielder and Walker had baselessly accused Facebook, Dominion, the CTCL, and state officials of plotting to steal the election from former President Donald Trump by altering votes, using unreliable voting machines, and counting illegal votes, among other tactics. They sought $1.6 billion in damages on behalf of the nation’s 160 million voters.
After the attorneys’ case was dismissed in April, their counsel suggested paying each defendant $10,000 and argued that the defendants should not have reasonably spent more than that on their defense. The judge, however, determined that the defendants’ costly monthslong preparations for the case were reasonable and appropriate, considering they were faced with a 10-figure demand.
Facebook, Dominion and CTCL each submitted billing records and timesheets detailing the professionals who had worked on their cases, along with their hourly rates. In all, 721 hours were clocked by the three entities’ attorneys, totaling roughly $193,000.
Neureiter ruled Monday that Fielder and Walker must pay the three entities a total of $175,860. He reduced the amount requested by Dominion so it would match the amount requested by CTCL, as Dominion paid significantly more for fewer hours. Neureiter said he did not agree with that after considering other attorney rates.
“The sanction awards that I impose are reasonable in light of the magnitude of the case and the number of issues to be addressed,” Neureiter said. “Indeed, the sanction award is probably lower than it would be if market lawyer rates were being used.”
Fielder and Walker must also pay a combined $11,062.50 to Michigan and Pennsylvania.
The judge acknowledged that “regardless of how successful their law practices may be,” the high amount owed by the attorneys “will likely impose a degree of financial hardship.” But he said that was why he had looked to a survey on reasonable attorney rates for guidance before making his judgment. He also noted that the actual amount Facebook spent in legal fees was 16.3% higher than what it requested in compensation.
“They are experienced lawyers who should have known better. They need to take responsibility for their misconduct,” he said of Fielder and Walker.
The judge also said he recognized that the plaintiffs’ counsel had made a public appeal for financial contributions “from arguably innocent and gullible members of the public in order to supposedly hire experts to support this case.” Fielder said at a hearing that his counsel had raised approximately $95,000 from approximately 2,100 contributors.
Neureiter called that fundraising “arguably deceptive.”
“In reality, as disclosed at the hearing on sanctions, Plaintiffs’ counsel hired no experts, either before or after filing the Complaints, and did not speak to any of the alleged experts that were being used in other cases around the country,” he said. “I believe that rather than a legitimate use of the legal system to seek redress for redressable grievances, this lawsuit has been used to manipulate gullible members of the public and foment public unrest.”
Fielder and Walker did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment on Tuesday.