Attorneys: Alan Dershowitz should have known better
Alan Dershowitz, the famed civil liberties attorney, is asking not to be sanctioned alongside other attorneys for Kari Lake and Mark Finchem after he signed onto a lawsuit that the judge called a “frivolous complaint.”
Dershowitz claimed during a telephone hearing on Wednesday that he only participated in the case, which aimed to stop Arizona from using any type of electronic voting machines to tally ballots, in a limited capacity and should therefore not be held responsible for the false claims in the suit.
U.S. District Court Judge John Tuchi already ordered sanctions against Lake and Finchem’s lawyers in December for including false and misleading claims in their suit, including saying that Arizonans don’t use paper ballots to vote, something that anyone who has voted in the state knows isn’t true.
But two Arizona attorneys told the Arizona Mirror that because Dershowitz was listed as counsel in the case and signed his name to many of the filings, he was legally just as responsible for its content as the other lawyers who represented Lake and Finchem.
“I had the honest, good faith belief that I was only on here as a consultant,” Dershowitz told the judge.
Dershowitz, who is 84 and a former professor at Harvard Law, should have been well aware of his obligations, retired Arizona attorney Scot Stirling told the Arizona Mirror.
Dershowitz made it a point to tell the judge that he doesn’t know either Lake or Finchem personally.
“I do not like Ms. Lake,” Dershowitz said. “I would never have voted for her.”
While Dershowitz told the judge on Wednesday that he only consulted on the case as a constitutional law expert and was not involved in any other way, he agreed to be admitted to be an attorney in the case “pro hac vice,” which allows an attorney who isn’t licensed in a state to work on a specific case in that state.
“Everyone knows those rules, that when you appear in a case, you accept responsibility for the case,” Stirling said. “If he consented to appear in the case, he knows the responsibility he was taking on.”
Stirling spent his entire 43-year career working in Arizona, but for the last half of it did most of his work outside the state, having to be admitted to cases “pro hac vice” on a regular basis.
Dershowitz repeatedly made a point during the hearing to say he was listed as “of counsel” instead of “counsel” on the filings, but the attorneys who spoke to the Mirror said that doesn’t matter in the slightest.
Being listed as “of counsel” is about how a lawyer is associated with a firm and has no real meaning in court filings, Mark Kokanovich, an attorney at Ballard Spahr, told the Mirror. (Editor’s note: Ballard Spahr represents the Arizona Mirror and its publisher, States Newsroom, on First Amendment issues.)
Tuchi seemed to have a similar take, saying on Wednesday that he’d “found no authority” to support the position that “of counsel” meant anything different than being listed as counsel.
If a lawyer signs his name to a document, he has a legal obligation to know what is in it, Stirling said.
“Nothing should be filed with his name on it that he doesn’t know about,” he said. “You might trust other lawyers to do the work, but that doesn’t lessen your responsibility.”
One might allow another attorney to handle a certain part of a case, but should only do that with someone they trust, Stirling added.
“You only do that because you know the people you’re working with are competent and ethical and are not going to do crazy things to get you into trouble,” he said.
Lake and Finchem filed the suit against then Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in April 2022, claiming that the state’s voting machines were susceptible to hacking and therefore shouldn’t be used. Tuchi dismissed the suit in August, saying that it had no merit.