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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Thursday, June 25, 2015 by Jo Clifton
Judge assesses sanctions against Pressley, lawyer
At the end of a five-and-a-half hour hearing Wednesday, visiting Judge Dan Mills announced that he would be assessing sanctions against former City Council candidate Laura Pressley and her lawyer, David Rogers, for making spurious claims in her election contest lawsuit against Council Member Greg Casar.
Casar won the runoff election on Dec. 16 with nearly 65 percent of the vote in the District 4 race against Pressley. Mills had already found that her lawsuit against Casar was without merit and dismissed it. Pressley has indicated that she will appeal that ruling.
The judge read the amounts he seemed inclined to assess — fees suggested by Casar’s lawyer — on each of three allegations he found baseless and then added them up, arriving at $93,216.25. He did not say how he would apportion the sanctions between Pressley and Rogers. He may assess an amount to each individually, or he may find them jointly liable for the total amount.
Casar’s attorney, Chuck Herring, testified to the amount of attorney’s fees Casar has racked up at this point defending the legitimacy of his election win. Although Casar has not paid any of those fees, they amount to about $150,000. An appeal could add another $100,000 to the total.
Also, Herring asked the court to sanction both Pressley and Rogers for filing “a case that never ever should’ve existed.” In addition to attorney’s fees, he asked the court to assess a penalty against both in order to send a message to other litigants and lawyers not to make baseless allegations.
Mills told attorneys that he was inclined to assess sanctions for three allegations in particular that Pressley and her attorney made throughout their 13,000 pages of legal documents. Herring hammered the point that “they didn’t conduct a reasonable inquiry” about details that Pressley suspected or believed. He said the lawsuit was filed in bad faith and that Casar, who was not accused of any wrongdoing, was being asked to bear the burden of Pressley’s suspicions about electronic voting.
Herring described Pressley as a conspiracy theorist. “That’s what this case is about. It’s about suspicions. It’s about conspiracy theories. That’s not evidence,” he said.
Mark Cohen, Pressley’s current lawyer, did not file any of the lawsuits and is not subject to the sanctions motion.
On numerous occasions, Herring said Pressley could have gotten all of her questions answered if she had just asked County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to conduct an audit of the election. In addition, Herring said, such an audit would have been free. However, she did not request one. Cohen said Pressley does not trust DeBeauvoir and would not have believed anything she said.
Mills was particularly interested in three allegations that he had found to be baseless. Pressley alleged that closing one voting location at Highland Mall disenfranchised certain voters. Herring pointed out that there was another location very close to the Highland Mall and that Pressley had been unable to produce even one voter who would say that he or she failed to vote because of the closure of that voting location.
Pressley also alleged criminal conduct on the part of DeBeauvoir and another employee of the County Clerk’s Office regarding the way they conducted the recount. However, she was not able to produce any evidence of such misconduct, and the judge said, “Making the allegations of criminal conduct is what I will sanction for.”
Mills also said he would assess sanctions against Rogers and Pressley for allegations related to handling what are called “Zero Tapes.”
Herring said that the order Mills signed Wednesday after the hearing extends the judge’s jurisdiction for an additional 30 days, which could mean Pressley’s appeal will be delayed. Herring pronounced himself “pleased” with the outcome of the hearing. Pressley said she will continue her appeal, which will now include any penalties the judge assesses.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council November 2014 Elections: The November 2014 Austin City Council elections marked a shift from an all-at-large City Council to one elected based mostly on geographic districts. The city's Mayor remains elected at-large.
District 4: District 4 is bordered by Lamar Boulevard and US 183 on the west, by Cameron Road on the east, 51st Street on the south and Braker Lane on the north.
Greg Casar: Austin City Council member for District 4
Laura Pressley: Among other things, Laura Pressley ran for the District 4 seat of City Council in 2014. After losing that election, Pressley sued, launching a larger battle against electronic voting that persisted well after the election concluded.