On Friday, July 14, 2023, Judge John J. Tuchi of the U.S. District Court for Arizona ruled on sanctions against attorneys involved in a voting machine lawsuit from 2022.
The case, Lake v. Fontes, was filed in April 2022 by Kari Lake and Mark Finchem, who were running for governor and Secretary of State in Arizona respectively, against Arizona election officials seeking to prohibit the use of electronic voting machines in the 2022 midterm elections. Lake and Finchem were represented by attorneys Andrew Parker and Kurt Olsen from the law firms Parker Daniels Kibort and Olsen Law. They also brought on well-known attorney Alan Dershowitz as “of counsel” in an advisory role.
In December 2022, the court dismissed the lawsuit and later granted a motion for sanctions against the plaintiffs’ attorneys, finding that some of the factual allegations lacked evidentiary support and the claims had no reasonable basis in law. Judge Tuchi determined sanctions were warranted under Rule 11 for failure to reasonably investigate the factual and legal claims, and under 28 U.S.C. 1927 for unnecessarily multiplying the proceedings by seeking an untimely preliminary injunction.
On Friday, the judge issued his ruling on the specific sanctions to be imposed. The Maricopa County defendants, who were the targets of the original lawsuit, had sought $139,950 in attorneys’ fees. Judge Tuchi reviewed the billing records and arguments from both sides. He determined that $122,200 was a reasonable fee award.
Parker, Olsen, and their law firms were held jointly and severally liable for the full amount. Judge Tuchi addressed the unique situation of Dershowitz, who had designated himself only as “of counsel” in an advisory role. While Dershowitz argued this limited his responsibilities, the judge found that by signing documents like the complaint and motions, Dershowitz had certified their adequacy under Rule 11, regardless of his title.
However, recognizing Dershowitz’s more limited involvement, the judge reduced his share of responsibility to 10% of the total fee award, or $12,220. While still imposing a sanction, the judge acknowledged Dershowitz’s claim that he committed an “honest mistake” in his understanding of his obligations. The sanction was intended to deter similar conduct in the future, while not discouraging experts from providing limited legal assistance.
The ruling clarified the responsibilities of attorneys who sign court filings, even with designations like “of counsel,” while accounting for different levels of involvement in sanction decisions. It remains to be seen if any party will appeal further.
Mr. Dershowitz is a lawyer and law professor known for his expertise in constitutional and criminal law. He taught at Harvard Law School for nearly 50 years and served as the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law. Dershowitz is also a frequent media commentator on legal issues.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.