Atlanta Law Firms Deny Conflict In Georgia Election Suits

Law360 (November 12, 2020, 8:59 PM EST) -- Atlanta-based law firms Taylor English Duma LLP and Robbins Ross Alloy Belinfante Littlefield LLC on Thursday denied an alleged conflict of interest over their involvement in representing Georgia election officials in one voting suit and the Donald Trump campaign and Georgia Republicans in another.

The law firms have drawn fire for what critics say is an untenable position: both defending the Georgia election process while also representing Republicans who've alleged problems in the state's count of 2020 presidential ballots. But the firms told Law360 they haven't argued anything contradictory in the cases, so there is no conflict.

Meanwhile, Georgia also faces new allegations of election improprieties. On Wednesday, a small group of Georgia voters sued to block the state from certifying presidential election results from several counties.

Taylor English told Law360 on Thursday its lawyers are properly providing advice on Georgia's election laws and focusing on ensuring those laws are consistently applied, "despite assertions to the contrary." The firm first denied any conflict of interest Wednesday in response to questions from Georgia news outlets.

"Taylor English attorneys have not brought any litigation asserting voter fraud, nor are we representing any entity in a challenge to or contest of Georgia election results," the firm said in an emailed statement. " We have taken no action on behalf of any client adverse to the legal interests of the Georgia secretary of state, and vice-versa. We have no conflict of interest."

Taylor English and Robbins Ross lawyers both are defending Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and state election board members in a three-year federal court case challenging the state's election process. The same lawyers also represented Trump's campaign and the Republican Party of Georgia in a post-Election Day suit alleging 53 ballots were wrongly counted in the Savannah area, which was promptly dismissed by a Chatham County Superior Court judge.

Josh Belinfante of Robbins Ross, one of the lawyers in both cases, emphasized to Law360 that the Chatham County case was brought against election officials in Savannah, not the state or its election officials. The Chatham County litigation wasn't inconsistent with positions the firm has staked out for its state clients, he said.

"Indeed, the limited relief we sought in Chatham County was to enforce a state law that we successfully upheld," Belinfante said. "Even the most cursory review of the Chatham County pleadings would demonstrate there is nothing adverse to the secretary of state, the State Election Board, or their positions."

While the legal representation fight flares, Raffensperger and other Georgia state officials, along with a number of election officials from counties that leaned in favor of President-elect Joe Biden, were hit with a new lawsuit alleging those counties' presidential results were invalid due to illegal voting. The four plaintiff voters, who don't live in the counties where they challenge election results, want those counties' presidential votes struck from Georgia's certified record.

The state and county defendants haven't yet responded to the new lawsuit. Robbins Ross and Taylor English confirmed to Law360 they were not involved in the new case.

With all eyes on Georgia's election results and more voting lawsuits expected in the Peach State, Raffensperger announced Wednesday that Georgia's 159 counties would each recount by hand the presidential election results before they are certified to the state, which will also conduct a full pre-certification audit of the election.

In Georgia, a presidential candidate can request a recount if the winning margin is less than 1% of the state's total vote, and state officials have said that they expect Trump to do so.

Raffensperger has refused calls from Georgia's incumbent Republican senators — who both face a runoff election in January — to resign, maintaining confidence in Georgia's election transparency.

But the Republican secretary has cause to be concerned about the integrity of his legal team in defending the state's voting process, a Georgia legal ethics professor told Law360 on Thursday. Clark D. Cunningham of Georgia State University College of Law said the Taylor English and Robbins Ross attorneys representing the state in election cases should pull out of them.

Cunningham, who is not involved in the election litigation, said he was astounded that lawyers who had for years represented the state in defending its election process would simultaneously challenge that process on behalf of Trump's campaign and the Georgia Republican Party.

"How can that be anything than entirely inappropriate? I think it's appalling," Cunningham said. "Even if the representation of the secretary of state and the Trump campaign were completely unrelated, I think it would still be a problem, but they're closely related. And right now the secretary of state needs to have unimpeachable integrity in dealing with this election."

Cunningham said at minimum the Taylor English and Robbins Ross attorneys should have asked for Raffensperger's permission to represent Trump and Georgia Republicans, but that regardless the conflict was too serious to be waived by consent.

"Why not hire somebody else? Did they think that they would be able to get some influence or information through their law firm?" Cunningham said. "These are reasons why you don't allow these kinds of things to happen."

David D. Cross of Morrison & Foerster LLP, lead attorney for voters in the long-running Georgia elections challenge in federal court, told Law360 it is hard to deny a conflict of interest exists when the same lawyers who repeatedly told the court that Georgia's election system is secure and reliable just argued the complete opposite in another court.

"We're pleased to see that at least some of Secretary Raffensperger's lawyers finally seem to acknowledge that there are serious reliability problems with the election system he's responsible for, but to be clear we've seen no evidence of voter fraud in our examination of the system," Cross said Thursday. "The secretary's lawyers in our case who also represent the Trump campaign in election challenges in Georgia suggest in my opinion that their positions regarding Georgia's election system are driven by partisan allegiances rather than facts."

The secretary of state's office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The plaintiffs in the federal case are represented by David D. Cross, John P. Carlin, Lyle F. Hedgecock, Mary G. Kaiser, Robert W. Manoso, Veronica Ascarrunz and Eileen M. Brogan of Morrison & Foerster LLP, Halsey G. Knapp Jr. and Adam M. Sparks of Krevolin & Horst LLC, Bruce P. Brown of Bruce P. Brown Law LLC, Robert A. McGuire III of Robert McGuire Law Firm, Cary Ichter of Ichter Davis LLC and John Powers and David Brody of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

State election officials are represented in the federal case by Vincent R. Russo, Josh Belinfante, Carey A. Miller and Alexander Denton of Robbins Ross Alloy Belinfante Littlefield LLC and Bryan P. Tyson, Jonathan D. Crumly Sr., James A. Balli, Diane F. LaRoss, Bryan F. Jacoutot and Loree A. Paradise of Taylor English Duma LLP.

Trump and Georgia Republicans are represented in the Chatham County case by Bryan P. Tyson, Jonathan D. Crumly Sr., Bryan F. Jacoutot and Loree A. Paradise of Taylor English Duma LLP, Vincent R. Russo, Josh Belinfante and Carey A. Miller of Robbins Ross Alloy Belinfante Littlefield LLC, Stefan C. Passantino of Elections LLC and Dwight T. Feemster of Duffy & Feemster LLC.

Chatham County election officials are represented in the state suit by Benjamin M. Perkins of Oliver Maner LLP. The Democratic Party of Georgia, an intervenor, is represented by Jeffrey R. Harris of Harris Lowry Manton LLP, Manoj S. Varghese, Christopher T. Giovinazzo, Michael B. Terry and Benjamin E. Fox of Bondurant Mixson & Elmore LLP and Marc E. Elias and Amanda R. Callais of Perkins Coie LLP.

The federal case is Curling et al. v. Raffensperger et al., case number 1:17-cv-02989, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The state case is In re: Enforcement of Election Laws and Securing Ballots Cast or Received After 7 p.m. on November 3, 2020, case number SPCV20-00982, in the Superior Court of Chatham County, Georgia.

--Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

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