Trump Campaign Pulls Plug On Suits Contesting Ga. Election

Law360 (January 7, 2021, 11:41 PM EST) -- President Donald Trump and his campaign on Thursday dropped four suits challenging Georgia's elections while also falsely telling a Peach State federal court that a settlement had been reached with the state's officials, a claim that was sharply and quickly refuted by Georgia leaders.

In correcting the president's claims, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger also slammed one of Trump's attorneys for allegedly improperly participating in the call in which Trump pressured Raffensperger to "find" 11,780 votes in favor of his reelection. Kurt R. Hilbert, Trump's lawyer, hadn't notified the state's counsel before hopping on the call, a move that "appears to be in violation of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct," Kemp and Raffensperger said.

"This action by plaintiff's counsel was undertaken despite the fact that the substance of the call concerned not only this action but also two pending state superior court matters and a pending appeal in the Georgia Supreme Court in which defendant Raffensperger was represented by counsel, all of which was known to plaintiff's counsel," they told the court.

Trump's decision to withdraw the four suits — one in the Northern District of Georgia, two in the Superior Court of Fulton County and one in Georgia Supreme Court — comes in the wake of the pro-Trump mob that violently stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as legislators formalized the victory of President-elect Joe Biden. Congress ultimately certified the election results in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

Just hours after lodging the dismissal notices, Trump also officially acknowledged that Biden would be inaugurated later this month in a video statement posted to Twitter.

Trump, his campaign and several voters, all of whom were represented by Hilbert, had alleged that the state permitted thousands of improper votes to be cast, claims that election officials have said are baseless. The president filed several other similar suits, many of which have already been rejected by state and federal courts.

In Thursday's notice, Hilbert told the court that the case should be dismissed without prejudice "due to an out-of-court settlement agreement." He included as exhibits several of his email exchanges with Georgia officials, one of which featured the subject line "Acceptance Of Your Settlement Offer Letter Dated January 3, 2021."

That exchange, written by Hilbert himself, stated that the "entirety of this letter and the letter itself is for purposes of compromise and settlement discussions only and shall be held strictly confidential." However, he filed the entire letter — unredacted — with the court.

Raffensperger and Kemp said in their response Thursday that they do not object to the voluntary dismissal, however, they "do object to the false grounds articulated in the notice."

"Donald J. Trump voluntarily dismissed this litigation contending the dismissal is a result of settlement between the parties," they said. "It is not. There is no 'settlement.'"

Indeed, Trump's lawyers repeatedly brought up settling the disputes, they said. But those inquiries were rebuffed by Georgia officials "on the grounds that plaintiff's litigation efforts were frivolous and the certified results of the Nov. 3, 2020, election were valid," they said.

In the email exchanges filed with the court, the Georgia officials' counsel made no mention of a settlement between the parties. Rather, Balch & Bingham LLP attorney Christopher Anulewicz told Hilbert that the state is "willing to cooperatively share information with you outside the pending litigation on the condition that all currently pending suits against the governor, the secretary of state and/or the members of the state election board be voluntarily dismissed."

Raffensperger and Kemp on Thursday also tore into Hilbert for being on the now-infamous Trump call on Jan. 2, saying he neither notified their litigation counsel nor sought or obtained consent to participate in the call. Anulewicz and the Georgia Attorney General's Office were absent from the call.

"While defendants are appreciative of this voluntary dismissal and the cessation by plaintiff of this groundless litigation, as officers of the court it is expected that all matters before the court will be handled with complete candor," they said. "The defendants make this response to ensure that the actual record of what has transpired is accurately reflected in the docket."

Georgia representatives, Hilbert, counsel for Trump's campaign and the voters didn't immediately return requests for comment late Thursday.

Also on Thursday, a Fox Rothschild LLP partner agreed to leave the firm after it was reported that he, too, was present on Trump's call with Raffensperger. Alex B. Kaufman, a litigator in Fox Rothschild's Atlanta office since December 2019, "reached a mutual agreement" to depart the firm, Fox Rothschild representatives told Law360.

Fox Rothschild stressed that neither Kaufman nor the firm represent or have ever represented Trump or his presidential campaign.

Wednesday's riot at the Capitol shocked the nation and left the Washington, D.C., legal world uneasy. Many firms and courthouses blocks away from the incident closed their doors or boosted security.

The afternoon of chaos followed a rally near the White House held by Trump and his supporters. The president, who has repeatedly touted unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and lost numerous lawsuits challenging his election loss, told his supporters, "We will never concede."

Lawmakers resumed their session after law enforcement cleared the building and rejected Republican Rep. Jody Hice's objection to Georgia's election results, a decision that was met with applause.

In Thursday's video statement, Trump accepted the election, but added, "To all of my wonderful supporters, I know you are disappointed. But I also want you to know that our incredible journey is only just beginning."

Suits challenging the election results in Georgia and elsewhere haven't fared well. In late November, the Third Circuit resoundingly rejected Trump's suit over Pennsylvania's results, finding that that the second amended complaint the campaign wanted to file contained no specific allegations or evidence to back its claims that Pennsylvania's election was unfair to Trump.

That same month, a Georgia federal judge denied on multiple grounds an emergency bid to halt the certification of Georgia's general election results, saying the request by Atlanta attorney L. Lin Wood was too late, without merit and would disenfranchise millions of voters.

Trump, his campaign and the voters are represented by Kurt R. Hilbert of the Hilbert Law Firm LLC, Ray S. Smith III of Smith & Liss LLC, Mark C. Post of Mark Post Law LLC and David F. Guldenschuh.

Georgia election officials are represented by Bryan K. Webb, Russell D. Willard and Charlene S. McGowan of the Office of the Attorney General and Christopher S. Anulewicz, James L. Hollis, Jonathan R. DeLuca and Patrick N. Silloway of Balch & Bingham LLP.

The cases are Donald Trump v. Brian P. Kemp et al., case number 1:20-cv-05310, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia; Donald Trump et al. v. Raffensperger et al., case number 2020CV343255, in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia; Shawn Still v. Raffensperger et al., case number 2020CV343711, in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia; and Paul Andrew Boland v. Brad Raffensperger et al., case number 2020CV343018, in Georgia Supreme Court.

--Additional reporting by Rosie Manins, Matthew Santoni and Cara Bayles. Editing by Emily Kokoll.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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