This is crazy.
Inside a nearly empty federal courtroom Thursday, a fiery argument broke out between a judge and the lawyers representing Texas-based nonprofit True the Vote in a defamation and computer fraud case filed by a Michigan-based election software company.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt warned Houston-based attorneys Brock Akers and Mike Brewer that they might be getting “played” by their conservative nonprofit client after the attorneys repeatedly argued against disclosing the source of the information central to the case, about sensitive poll worker data managed by Konnech Inc.
In podcasts and elsewhere, True the Vote has repeatedly claimed that their organization directed “analysts” to hack Konnech’s servers, which the group claims were located in China and thus proof of the company’s work on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party. After Konnech sued True the Vote last month for defamation, Hoyt ordered True the Vote to turn over any Konnech data the organization still had, and disclose the name of the individuals who’d helped them obtain it.
The contentious tone in the courtroom demonstrated the precarious position the lawsuit has put True the Vote in. The group has spearheaded the spread of voter fraud conspiracy theories in Texas and beyond for years — most recently by producing the debunked voter-fraud documentary “2000 Mules” — and has faced very little accountability for it. Now True the Vote is trying to maintain its conspiratorial claims about Konnech while also denying accusations that it illegally hacked data or misled the public about the company and its CEO.
In their own legal filings, True the Vote said that contrary to their prior public statements, the group had never been in possession of Konnech’s data but had simply been shown it by a source.
Konnech’s lawyers, meanwhile, asked the judge to hold True the Vote’s founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, and a board member, Gregg Phillips, in contempt for failing to follow the judge’s order.
In court Thursday, Akers and Brewer were reluctant to release the source’s name in court, saying they feared for the man’s safety.
Hoyt, a judicial nominee of President Reagan, wasn’t having it.
The judge said he didn’t “have any confidence” in True the Vote’s version of events, in part because he said the group’s leaders haven’t submitted sworn affidavits under penalty of perjury to support them. True the Vote’s lawyers said they didn’t believe their clients needed to appear at the hearing.
“Do errors get made [in elections]? Yeah,” Hoyt said as he continued to question True the Vote’s trustworthiness. “Do people cheat? Perhaps. But all of this hustle and bustle about the integrity of the process? Is the way to fix the process to tear it apart? That’s not integrity.”
He demanded the lawyers release the name of the source.
See here for the previous update. Judge Hoyt eventually got the name, which Votebeat didn’t publish in their story from the weekend because they hadn’t been able to verify anything about that person. I mean, I dunno, it’s probably not a good sign for your side when the judge is telling your lawyers that you can’t be trusted. We’ll have to see how it goes from here.
In the meantime, this is also nuts.
The Los Angeles County district attorney announced on Tuesday the arrest of Eugene Yu, the CEO of a small company that makes software for scheduling poll workers and had a contract with LA County. District Attorney George Gascón said at a news conference that the contract with the county required the company, Konnech, to securely maintain election worker information on servers in the United States.
Gascón said that in the course of a separate investigation, his office “found probable cause to believe that Konnech allegedly violated this contract by storing critical information that the workers provided on servers in China.”
The district attorney did not provide further details of what evidence his investigators had uncovered so far. He said Yu’s arrest was made on “suspicion of theft of personal identifying information.”
Konnech is located in Michigan, and Gascón said his office had cooperated with local law enforcement to make the arrest. Robert Arcos, the chief of the DA’s Bureau of Investigation, said that investigators from the Public Integrity Unit and the Computer Forensics Unit helped serve the arrest warrant on Yu, and also seized hard drives.
“We intend to hold all those responsible for this breach accountable,” said Gascón, who added that his office is seeking the extradition of Yu from Michigan to California.
NPR obtained court documents filed against Yu in Ingham County, Michigan, which indicate that Yu is “charged in Los Angeles County, California with the extraditable crime of Embezzlement of Public Funds.” The documents state Michigan authorities charged Yu with “misdemeanor fugitive from justice,” and he has another court date on Oct. 25. NPR also sought court documents from the LA County D.A.’s office, but a spokesperson said in an email, “Because this is an ongoing investigation we will not be releasing any documents at this time.”
Gascón, a Democrat, said at the news conference that the information allegedly held on servers in China related to poll workers, and “is not — I repeat, it is not — related to election material or voter information.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Konnech said, “We are continuing to ascertain the details of what we believe to be Mr. Yu’s wrongful detention by L.A. County authorities.”
“Any L.A. County poll worker data that Konnech may have possessed was provided to it by L.A. County, and therefore could not have been ‘stolen’ as suggested,” said the spokesperson, Jon Goldberg.
As they say, you can’t make this stuff up. I didn’t see any more recent stories than the ones reporting the arrest, and those stories were all based on the LA County DA’s press release. Hard to know if we’ll learn anything more until the court date in two weeks. Unfortunately, I doubt that DA Gascón’s emphatic words about the nature of this case will persuade anyone on the True The Vote side. It’s likely to get crazier from here.