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As the holiday season begins, let's raise a glass, a drumstick, a latke — or all three! — to a magistrate judge in Colorado by the name of N. Reid Neureiter.
Earlier this week, Neureiter ordered two attorneys to pay nearly $190,000 to the defendants they targeted in a meritless and irresponsible lawsuit claiming fraud in the November 2020 election — a wholly above-board exercise that resulted in the clear-cut and irrefutable defeat of the nation's 45th president.
Here's hoping the action by the U.S. district court judge sets a precedent that spreads widely through the land, as former President Trump and his enablers continue to push the "Big Lie" of rampant voter fraud and seek to undermine the legitimacy of the current chief executive.
It's one thing to market that mendacity to fleece donors, salve the former president's velveteen ego or build an audience on Fox News, OAN or other Trumpaganda media outlets. Things are different in a court of law, and must be.
Attorneys Gary D. Fielder and Ernest John Walker filed suit in Denver in December 2020, supposedly on behalf of 160 million American voters, alleging a vast conspiracy to steal the 2020 election. They accused, among others, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the company Dominion Voting Systems, a manufacturer of voting equipment and a favorite target of the tin-foil hat crowd. The attorneys asked for $160 billion in damages, and why not?
The case was — surprise! — dismissed in April, but Neureiter wasn't finished with the litigious duo. He hauled the attorneys up for a hearing last summer to consider possible sanctions. He asked if it occurred to the co-counsel — Walker, a former government lawyer; Fielder, a onetime local prosecutor — that they were being used by Trump to spread his self-serving propaganda?
Neureiter observed, per the Washington Post, that Trump's own attorney general, William Barr, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency were among the many election overseers that found no evidence whatever of widespread fraud or voting-machine tampering. That, Neureiter told the attorneys, should have been a “red light" or "at least a flashing yellow light” that more investigation was merited before they filed their fatuous lawsuit.
But Fielder said the two had a “good faith” belief the election was stolen by Joe Biden and fellow Democrats, based on theories put forth by various other attorneys and Trump allies, including MyPillow Chief Executive and fabulist Mike Lindell.
“These are serious allegations," Fielder said, "made by serious people."
(While they were at it, Fielder and his co-counsel might have consulted the works of Dr. Seuss, who had some interesting and authoritative things to say about Lorax and Sneetches, which would have held just as much water and benefit to their case.)
Neureiter issued a stinging rebuke in his ruling Monday, ordering Fielder and Walker to pay various sums to Facebook (since rebranded as Meta), Dominion Voting Systems and others.
"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," the judge wrote. "To that extent, this lawsuit has been an abuse of the legal system and an interference with the machinery of government. For all these reasons, I feel that a significant sanctions award is merited."
Fielder responded with a statement calling the judge's decision "unfathomable" and noted that Neureiter's dismissal of the underlying case has been appealed.
"We are not going to stop fighting for the rights of the people to vote in free and fair presidential elections," Fielder said. "This is the cross to die on."
For the record, numerous state and federal judges, including some put on the bench by Trump, have dismissed more than 50 groundless lawsuits challenging the election and its outcome. (Apart from the deceit involved, there is also the matter of clogging a badly overburdened court system with such obviously frivolous and time-wasting lawsuits. Some civil litigants wait years to see the inside of a courtroom.)
In August, a federal judge in Michigan sanctioned Sidney Powell, Lin Wood and other Trump attorneys for filing one of those many specious lawsuits. In addition to imposing legal fees, the judge ordered them to take classes on election law and urged their bar associations to investigate whether the lawyers should be suspended or disbarred.
Earlier in the summer, New York's highest court temporarily suspended Rudolph W. Giuliani’s law license for his role peddling the former president's prevarications.
But Giuliani and other Trump acolytes have shown repeatedly they care not about things like truthfulness, integrity, personal dignity and whatever remains of their soiled reputations.
For that reason it's worth toasting Neureiter's decision to slap a price tag on the spread of Trump's Big Lie. Maybe dollars and cents will prove a deterrent.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.