Pennsylvania county sanctioned over copying 2020 voting machine data
A Pennsylvania Republican-majority county government where two commissioners secretly allowed a third party to copy voting-machine data last year to help former President Donald Trump overturn his 2020 reelection defeat received contempt sanctions Wednesday from the state's highest court.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against Fulton County commissioners Stuart Ulsh and Randy Bunch — and their lawyers — for their behavior late last fall during pending litigation.
“We find that Fulton County and its various attorneys have engaged in a sustained, deliberate pattern of dilatory, obdurate and vexatious conduct and have acted in bad faith throughout these sanction proceedings,” wrote Justice David Wecht, in a 79-page opinion that announced the county was being held in civil contempt.
Fulton County was ordered to reimburse the Department of State for its legal costs and fees spent seeking to protect the machines from outside examinations since December 2021. The justices also called for the Dominion Voting Systems Inc.-owned machines in question to be placed in the custody of a “neutral agent” at the county's expense.
The Department of State had sought sanctions after learning in September that Speckin Forensics LLC, of Lansing, Michigan, copied hard drives in July from voting machines Fulton County rented from Dominion. Messages seeking comment were left for Speckin Forensics, which was not accused of wrongdoing in the matter before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Fulton had claimed in a lawsuit against Dominion that it was looking into whether the machines recorded votes accurately.
Manuel Bonder, a spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro, called the high court decision “further proof that those who abuse our legal system to peddle dangerous lies about our elections will continue to be held accountable.”
The court ruling in Pennsylvania comes as election conspiracy theorists have gained access to confidential data from voting machines in rural areas across the country, ranging from Colorado to Michigan. A clerk in Colorado’s Mesa County faces multiple felony charges for her role in a breach there, and a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate breaches in Michigan.
Ulsh said in a phone interview Wednesday he had not seen the court opinions but had no regrets over how he and Bunch handled the machines in their effort to review the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.
“Nothing happened in Fulton County. I know that because of what I did," Ulsh said. Fulton County gave Trump more than 85% of its vote in 2020.
Ulsh and Bunch both invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to the vast majority of questions asked of them on direct examination in the contempt proceedings late last year before the high court's special master, Commonwealth Court President Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer.
Dominion has been the subject of conspiracy theories claiming without evidence the election was stolen from Trump. The company reached a nearly $800 million settlement with Fox News on Tuesday in one of a number of defamation lawsuits it has filed against his allies and right-wing broadcasters.
In the Pennsylvania case, the justices ruled that Dominion was also entitled to legal costs associated with protecting the voting machines going back to December 2021.
Fulton's lawyer, Thomas J. Carroll of Pottstown, “incessantly transgressed the bounds of zealous but ethical advocacy,” repeatedly raising the same arguments before Cohn Jubelirer and the state Supreme Court, “long after it was clear that neither would grant the relief he sought," Wecht said.
The justices referred Carroll to the state Attorney Disciplinary Board for an investigation and ruled Carroll to be liable — along with Fulton County — for costs and fees expended by Dominion and the Department of State since Carroll entered the case in April 2022. A message seeking comment from Carroll was left at his work phone number.
“We can hope that the sanctions will underscore for the County, Attorney Carroll, and other observers that they trifle with judicial orders and time-honored rules and norms in litigation at their peril,” Wecht wrote.
In its opinion, the court also targeted Stefanie Lambert, a Michigan lawyer who already has been sanctioned for her efforts to help Trump overturn his defeat. She represented Fulton County starting in 2022. The justices said she failed to disclose the disciplinary proceedings in Michigan arising from “2020 election-related litigation deemed frivolous and vexatious.”
In an emailed comment, Lambert made claims about the underlying litigation between Fulton County and Dominion but did not address the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's criticism of her.
The justices sent the matter back to Cohn Jubelirer to calculate the applicable legal fees and litigation costs to the Department of State and Dominion.
AP reporters Nicholas Riccardi in Denver and Marc Levy contributed to this story.