Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Michigan 2020 election cases delayed as Biden-Trump rematch looms

54-A District Court Judge Kristen Simmons sitting at her bench
54-A District Court Judge Kristen Simmons is overseeing one of the handful of outstanding 2020 election cases in Michigan. (Bridge photo by Jordyn Hermani)
  • Michigan criminal cases stemming from attempts to overturn the 2020 contest remain in legal limbo
  • Judge in ‘fake electors’ case this week chided the state’s lead investigator but plans additional hearings before a ruling
  • One defendant in alleged tabulator tampering case headed toward trial, but two others remanded to lower courts

LANSING — Nearly four years after a failed attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election, Michigan courts are still dealing with the aftermath.

While President Donald Trump battles his own legal charges, attorneys and judges continue to argue over a series of high-profile criminal cases in  Michigan: A Republican “fake elector” scheme, an alleged tabulator tampering plot and accusations of illicit election data transmission

Among those charged are a former state House lawmaker, the Michigan Republican Party’s former co-chair, a 2022 nominee for attorney general and a lawyer who has garnered national attention for 2020 litigation.


Now, as Election Day 2024 inches closer, some observers are concerned the cases won’t conclude before the Nov. 5 contest that will again pit Democratic President Joe Biden against Trump in a rematch they fear could inspire new attempts to undermine the democratic process. 


Others are expressing frustration about a long and winding judicial process that may, ultimately, never leave the preliminary examination phase.

That was made evident this week in Lansing when 54-A District Court Judge Kristen Simmons, presiding over a preliminary hearing for the accused fake electors, appeared to chide lead state investigator Howard Shock for struggling to recall certain elements of the years-long probe. 

Simmons, nominated to the bench in 2019 by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, is doing little to speed up the case herself. 

After splitting defendants into separate groups for preliminary exams, including two hearings that have stretched weeks and a third that has not yet been scheduled, the judge signaled Wednesday she won’t decide whether to bind suspects over for trial until each exam is complete. 

While delays can be frustrating to plaintiffs and defendants alike, long wait times are more a feature of the legal system than a bug, said Steven Liedel, a Michigan attorney specializing in election and campaign finance law who previously served as legal counsel to then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Contributing factors for the delays can be wide ranging, Liedel said, including the possibility of overlapping state and federal cases like the fake electors, which was probed by Special Counsel Jack Smith until Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel re-opened her investigation early last year. 

There was also the COVID-19 pandemic, which Liedel said “greatly impacted the operation of courts.”

“The judiciary is an independent branch of government,” he told Bridge Michigan on Wednesday, adding that courts are “not concerned with timeframes relating to elections and that sort of thing.”

Republican alternate electors in Lansing

The biggest of Michigan’s 2020 election-related cases, in terms of scope and scale, is the one pertaining to 15 Republicans accused of participating in the so-called fake elector scheme. 

A first set of defendants — including former Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock and Kathy Berden, a former Republican National Committee member — concluded preliminary exams in April

A second set wrapped preliminary exams on Wednesday, but a third round is expected because another three defendants were unable to make earlier court dates, either because of health or scheduling issues. 

State investigators allege defendants signed a document in the wake of Michigan’s 2020 presidential election claiming the state’s Electoral College votes went to Trump even though Biden won by 154,188 votes. 

Defense attorneys for the electors claim many of them did not know what an attorney for the Trump campaign had asked them to sign, or only signed the document as a backup in case the election was ultimately overturned.

Wednesday testimony from former Michigan GOP Communications Director Tony Zammit seemed to underscore that point. 

Zammit recalled observing the defendants line up to sign a sheet in the basement of the Michigan GOP headquarters in late 2020. But, he said, there was only a signature sheet, not the first page of the document that would later be sent to the National Archives purporting Trump won the state. 

That could be a key distinction, because prosecutors must prove defendants knowingly committed forgery by sending a slate of false electors.

Asked when she will decide whether to move the case to trial, Simmons said Wednesday she plans to issue one overarching decision for all defendants once remaining preliminary exams are done. “But I don’t know yet,” she said. 

All 15 defendants were charged in July 2023 with eight felonies apiece, some of which carry sentences of up to 14 years in prison. Six felonies were related to forgery, the others pertaining to uttering and publishing.

Trouble for prosecutors

Simmons on Monday said Shock’s lack of preparation for his latest round of testimony  — including failing to remember when the probe began — was a “glaring” issue as she considers whether to send the case to trial. 

It wasn’t the first gaffe by Shock. In previous testimony, he identified former Michigan GOP Chair Laura Cox as an “unindicted co-conspirator,” a claim Nessel’s office later walked back. 

Shock also called Trump an unindicted co-conspirator, which the attorney general’s office has said is accurate. 

Zammit and defense attorneys have suggested that if anyone knowingly prepared a false document, it was attorneys for the Trump campaign. The former president has been personally charged in a similar case out of Georgia, and some of his top associates face charges in Wisconsin. 

In an interview with Bridge last week, Nessel said her office has still not “not ruled anything out” in the Michigan case, including potential charges against Trump or high-profile allies. 

"You have a lot of other actors that are being held accountable at various different levels in federal court and other states,” said Nessel, a Democrat. “But we thought it was really important to start with these individuals here in Michigan and let the facts develop.”

Voting machine tampering in Oakland County

At least one of Michigan’s 2020 election cases may make it to trial this year: An alleged plot to illegally seize voting machines and examine them in a failed attempt to prove they were rigged against Trump

A trial for attorney Stefanie Lambert is scheduled to begin October 2 before Oakland County Court Judge Jeffery Matis.

She was one of three people charged in August 2023, alongside fellow attorney Matthew Deperno and former state Rep. Daire Rendon, in Special Prosecutor D.J. Hilson's probe of the alleged tabulator tampering scheme.

The three face various charges, including willfully damaging a voting machine and conspiring to commit unauthorized access of a computer, which are punishable by up to four or five years in prison. 

DePerno and Rendon aren’t heading to trial anytime soon, however. 

Their cases have been remanded to Royal Oak’s 44th District Court for probable cause conferences with Judge Derek Meinecke. Those hearings are currently scheduled to begin July 12. 

Hilson, the special prosecutor, agreed to remand the cases for preliminary hearings that will determine whether DePerno and Rendon head to trial. In a December 2023 filing, Hilson said preliminary exams would help “avoid a later claim that there was an error in not having one held.”

He cited dismissal of criminal charges in the Flint water crisis, where the Michigan Supreme Court ultimately agreed that defendants who were indicted by a one-man grand jury should have been granted preliminary exams.

More trouble for Stefanie Lambert

Lambert was arrested on a contempt of court order in March after she missed a hearing in the Oakland County tampering case while in Washington D.C. to defend businessman Patrick Byrne in a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems. 

Dominion is seeking to disqualify Lambert from the suit because she allegedly provided confidential court records about their election machines to Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, who then published them on social media. She has claimed she had a duty to turn over “evidence” to law enforcement. 

Lambert is additionally a player in another Michigan criminal case pertaining to election interference in Hillsdale County’s Adams Township.

Nessel’s office in May announced felony charges against Lambert and former Adams Township Clerk Stephanie Scott after the latter blocked routine maintenance on local voting equipment. Election officials say her actions were a misguided attempt to preserve 2020 voting data. 


Nessel claims the two broke several laws when Scott refused to turn over voting equipment in 2021. Lambert then allegedly used that equipment to illicitly transmit 2020 general election data from the township’s electronic poll book under Scott’s instruction.

Lambert’s charges are computer-related. Scott’s include unauthorized computer access, misconduct in office and concealing or withholding a voting machine — as well as a misdemeanor charge for disobeying instructions from elections officials.

If found guilty, Scott could face up to 20 years in prison, and Lambert up to 15 years. They are due back in Hillsdale County’s 2B District Court on June 12 for a preliminary examination before Judge Megan Stiverson.

How impactful was this article for you?

Only donate if we've informed you about important Michigan issues

See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:

  • “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
  • “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
  • “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.

If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now