As Trump lawsuit sputters, Michigan moves closer to certifying election

President Donald Trump has raised unproven claims he won Michigan and this month’s presidential election, but his efforts to stop the certification of the state’s result in court have largely failed. (Shutterstock)

LANSING — President Donald Trump continues to suffer legal setbacks in his attempt to block certification of Michigan election results, a case delayed by his attorneys’ failure to complete basic protocols.

Five days after the campaign brought suit, and just one day before Michigan counties are set to certify election results the president is contesting, Trump attorneys had not yet “served” election officials with a copy of the complaint as required, District Court Judge Janet Neff said in a Monday order.

That means the Trump campaign has not formally notified the defendants they are trying to sue, a routine and mandatory procedure in civil litigation.

Lead Trump attorney Mark “Thor” Hearne, who is based in Missouri, did not immediately respond to a Bridge message seeking comment on what appears to be the latest in a series of blunders that have plagued the campaign’s Michigan litigation.

Attorneys usually “serve” defendants at the same time they file a lawsuit, and there’s no reasonable explanation for why that process would take five days, said Steven Liedel, a Michigan government policy lawyer with the Dykema firm in Lansing. 

“Typically, when you’re asking for a court to do something extraordinarily quickly, you want to make sure you’ve taken all the steps you need to permit that to happen,” he told Bridge Michigan. “If folks actually haven’t been served, that would likely be an issue in any action in the litigation.”

Trump lost Michigan to Democrat Joe Biden by more than 146,000 votes, according to unofficial results. 

But the president has claimed victory here and refused to concede the national election as he seeks to overturn results in Michigan and other battleground states.


The campaign’s Michigan complaint is based around disputed claims that GOP poll challengers were denied meaningful access to observe absentee ballot counting at the TCF Center in Detroit. It also claims a dead person cast a ballot in the Nov. 3 election, which is not true.

Wayne County Judge Timothy Kenny, a Republican appointee, rejected a similar third-party lawsuit on Friday, ruling the claims were “incorrect and not credible.” 

Stopping election certification would be an “unprecedented exercise of judicial activism,” Kenny wrote in a decision that conservative attorneys are appealing to the Michigan Court of Appeals. 

Without explanation, GOP attorneys on Monday also dismissed a separate lawsuit that sought to invalidate 1.2 million Michigan votes in Wayne, Ingham and Washtenaw counties. 

James Bopp, an attorney for True the Vote and a former vice chairman of the Republican National Committee, declined to comment on the dismissal, citing attorney client privilege. 

"I do not telegraph my next moves," Bopp told Bridge Michigan in an email.

Dana Nessel, the state’s Democratic attorney general, called the dismissed lawsuit a deliberate attempt “to spread misinformation about the security and integrity of Michigan elections.

“Our elections have been conducted fairly and transparently and the results reflect the will of Michigan’s voters,” she said in a statement. “Any claims to the contrary are wholly without merit.”

The Trump campaign’s federal suit remains active and seeks to halt election results certification in Wayne County, where bipartisan canvassers are set to meet Tuesday, and statewide certification in Lansing, where bipartisan canvassers are expected to convene Nov. 23.

The Nov. 11 complaint alleges Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Wayne County election officials “allowed fraud and incompetence to corrupt the conduct of the 2020 general election.” 

Those claims are based on GOP poll challenger accounts that do not include any direct evidence of fraud.

The NAACP is seeking to intervene in the case, calling it an “all-out attack on votes cast by Black voters” in Detroit, where nearly 79 percent of residents are African American.  

Neff, a Republican appointee assigned to the case, said Monday that the Trump campaign had not responded to NAACP requests to “meet and confer” on the motion. So she ordered any response to be filed by 5 p.m.

The City of Detroit is also seeking to intervene in the case, arguing the Trump campaign’s complaint “repeatedly alleges that Wayne County conducted the election in Detroit, displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of how elections operate in Michigan.”

The Trump campaign initially sued Michigan in the state Court of Claims, where Judge Cynthia Stevens denied the president’s request to halt absentee balloting, ruling that the primary evidence of alleged impropriety presented by GOP attorneys was “hearsay” testimony. 

Hearne attempted to appeal that ruling, but the Michigan Court of Appeals deemed the request “defective” because it did not include required paperwork. He promised to file that paperwork seven days ago, but as of Monday had still not done so, according to a court spokesperson.

Trump’s campaign also erroneously filed its Michigan lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which only hears monetary claims against the U.S. government. Hearn chalked up the mix up to an “electronic error,” an explanation other attorneys have disputed. 

Hearne was the national legal counsel for President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign and helped lead a group called the American Center for Voting Rights that promoted voter fraud narratives in the 2000s before mysteriously disappearing. 

At the time, Hearne’s group was “the only prominent nongovernmental organization claiming that voter fraud is a major problem” and warranted stricter rules like voter identification laws, according to Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine.

Trump’s legal team features “out-of-state attorneys that seem to have some issues practicing here in Michigan,” said Liedel, who served as legal counsel to former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

But beyond process, the campaign’s pleadings “don’t really point to any facts would indicate a violation of election law, or anything that would demonstrate any sort of fraud that could impact a single vote or indicate anything that could overturn the results of an election,” he said. 

Republican lawmakers in Michigan have largely remained silent as Trump alleges widespread voter fraud, falsely claims he won the state and questions the integrity of the election. Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature is conducting its own inquiry of the allegations. 

U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell of Dryden, who did not run for re-election and is set to leave Congress at the end of the year, is among a small but growing group of Republicans urging the president to concede the race to Biden and begin a peaceful transition of power. 

Trump’s “legal challenges alleging fraud have failed due to lack of evidence,” Mitchell wrote Monday on Twitter.  “Recounts may change numbers slightly - not enough to change the outcome.  The good of this nation requires an effective transition.  Let’s just deal with it.”

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a former Republican from Cascade Township who did not seek re-election as a Libertarian, said Trump’s claims are “not healthy.”

“He has the right to pursue legal challenges—even futile ones, but he is hurting himself and the country with his absurd proclamations,” Amash wrote on Twitter. “Republicans in Congress need to intercede.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Mon, 11/16/2020 - 4:21pm

Trump's attorneys haven't served election officials with a copy of one complaint, left required documentation out of another, and made "not credible and incorrect claims" in another. Did Trump's "lawyers" pass the bar, or entered one and been drunk ever since?

Tue, 11/17/2020 - 7:17am

So say those with a vested interest in making these suits disappear before evidence of fraud can be found. Obstruct, cover up and deny, push the election through, get the cheaters in power so they can continue the cover up.

No thanks
Tue, 11/17/2020 - 10:51am

Fishing expedition? Put up or shut up.

Mon, 11/16/2020 - 6:04pm

Trump lawsuits sputter, just like he does.

The Impatient P...
Mon, 11/16/2020 - 11:19pm

For as many times as President Donald John Trump has been mocked
he has subsequently been vindicated. Not good odds for Biden.

Hail to the NEW...
Tue, 11/17/2020 - 10:53am

You realize We the People voted? Trump, you're fired!

middle of the mit
Tue, 11/17/2020 - 12:00am

Before I give my comment, Bill, that was awesome!!

{{{Wayne County Judge Timothy Kenny, a Republican appointee, rejected a similar third-party lawsuit on Friday, ruling the claims were “incorrect and not credible.”

Stopping election certification would be an “unprecedented exercise of judicial activism,” Kenny wrote in a decision that conservative attorneys are appealing to the Michigan Court of Appeals. }}}

Now, we all know how publicans feel about judicial activism, don't we? It's NOT judicial activism when they do it! It's "interpretation"!

Raffensperger, a Republican, told the Post that Graham asked if political bias could have compelled election workers to accept ballots with mismatched signatures, and inquired whether entire batches of legal ballots could be tossed from counties with high levels of signature mismatch.

Raffensperger told the Post he was “stunned” by the inquiries.

On Monday night, after the Post report came out, Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill that he was “surprised” to hear how Raffensperger characterized the conversation, calling his conclusion that Graham was trying to get ballots tossed “ridiculous.”

“Trump could gain about 800 net votes from the newly discovered ballots.”

LOOK!! Another Republican county that couldn't do the job, and another case for fraud? How convieeeeenient!

The Lieutenant Governor of Texas is looking for cases of voter fraud.

The Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania advised him to look in Luzerne County.

“I got a dude in Forty Fort, PA who tried to have his dead mom vote for Trump,” Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman tweeted Tuesday evening in response to an appeal from Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

I didn't write these words I am about to type. They come from a blog I frequent.

I get that plenty of people have politics I disagree with, and some people are just evil and dishonest, but it is bizarre that a significant portion of the House GOP caucus (and some on the senate) are basically just there so they can have a bunch of twitter followers and shitpost all day. That seems to be what the job is to them. (This could apply to the GOP right here in MI.)

That I feel more of the weight of the world, more responsibility, writing this dumb blog than they do running the government suggests we have a bit of a problem.

And all the people who make these arguments are not acting in good faith, and no one is obligated to pretend they are.

{I am adding this last sentence from an earlier post of his, but it applies just the same.}}

Cold truth
Tue, 11/17/2020 - 8:50am

Trump, his lawyers, and sycophants are finding it is harder to lie in court than in the White House briefing room.

End this dangerous farce now. Lives are in the balance because Trump is acting like an autocrat who will not respect our Constitution and pass the leadership baton to Biden our duly elected president.

Tue, 11/17/2020 - 9:25am

Has the Trump reelection team or lawyers done anything illegal to date? Is filing lawsuits when they have people who have sworn under threat of perjury to have seen some problems a crime? Does he have the legal right to do so? If so then, sit down, shut up, and pass the popcorn cause this is gonna be fun. Oh and if by some chance the President does in fact show that cheating did happen and he wins the election. We will all see the HELL that the socialist/communist party....I mean the Democratic Party will punish us with, more lockdowns, more riots, more burning buildings in low income neighborhoods!!! Can I have a Pepsi with my popcorn please!!!

Don, you're fired!
Tue, 11/17/2020 - 2:21pm

Such delusions! I bet you'd like some popcorn to watch the Iran war he wants to start too.

Tue, 11/17/2020 - 2:14pm

Time to talk 25th Amendment.

T Bacon
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 2:16pm

One aspect of the article is misleading although literally true. Judge Neff was appointed by George Bush but only because a “deal” was made to break open a logjam preventing federal judicial appointments in Michigan. Judge Neff was known as a long time Democrat. Senators (first a Republican, and then a Democrat) had blocked Senate approval of appointments for years, until the deal was reached. Part of that deal was for Neff’s appointment. Judge Neff is a fair and honest judge, but characterization of her as a Republican appointee is misleading.