Court Sanctions Star Democrat Election Lawyer for 'Misleading' Filings

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March 15, 2021

The Democratic Party's top election lawyer was sanctioned by a federal appeals court Friday for intentionally drawing out a Texas election dispute.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Perkins Coie lawyer Marc Elias "unreasonably and vexatiously" drew out a legal challenge to Texas's ban on straight-ticket voting, which lets a voter cast a ballot for every candidate of a particular party with a single mark. Elias is a longtime Democratic legal hand who represents political entities like the Democratic National Committee and served as chief campaign counsel for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and John Kerry in 2004. 

Elias and his firm were ordered to cover Texas's legal fees. The court also encouraged Elias to review rules of professional conduct and complete Continuing Legal Education classes. 

Texas's legislature ended so-called one-punch voting in 2017, but a federal trial judge reinstituted it in 2020, citing the coronavirus pandemic. The judge did so after Elias filed a lawsuit on behalf of Democratic groups and the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans. The plaintiffs argued that one-punch voting would speed up in-person voting and reduce transmission of COVID-19. 

The Fifth Circuit put that ruling on hold. In a September 2020 decision, the appeals panel said Texas's anti-punch-vote law should go into effect. 

Elias's firm in February asked the Fifth Circuit for permission to file additional documents to reinforce one of their arguments. An identical motion had been denied earlier in the case, and on Friday the court said there was no excuse for the "redundant and misleading submission." 

"This inexplicable failure to disclose the earlier denial of their motion violated their duty of candor to the court," the order reads. The court noted that Elias exhibited a "lack of candor" in his handling of the challenge.

Texas attorney general Ken Paxton said sanctions were especially warranted because his office warned Elias that his motion violated court rules and should be withdrawn. The firm refused. 

"Even when they were notified that they violated ethical rules, they refused to withdraw their motion. They were aware of their violations and blatantly chose to ignore them," Paxton said in a statement.

Perkins Coie maintained that Elias did nothing wrong. 

"The firm and the attorneys involved in this matter strongly disagree with the appellate court's ruling and its order of sanctions in this case," it said in a statement. "The firm fully and completely supports our attorneys in this case."

The case is No. 20-40643 Texas Alliance for Retired Americans v. Hughs.