BELLAIRE — A 13th Circuit Court chief judge denied a request to conceal the identities of forensic investigators, whose false claims of voter fraud in Antrim County went viral after being disseminated online by supporters of President Donald Trump.
The investigators, working on behalf of attorney Matthew DePerno of Portage and his client Bill Bailey of Central Lake Township, helped author a report which both state and federal officials said falsely claimed deliberate fraud was built in to Dominion voting machine software.
The report by Allied Security Operations Group, Inc., a Texas-based cyber security firm, was publicly released Dec. 14 and claims of “vote flipping” and “massive fraud” were quickly refuted by U.S. and Michigan election officials.
DePerno had asked 13th Circuit Court Chief Judge Kevin Elsenheimer to issue a protective order, barring Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel from releasing the names of the investigators to the public, due to security issues.
“We can’t trust Dana Nessel to do anything to curb against violent threats against Trump supporters,” DePerno said. “And that would equally apply to the forensic team in this case.”
The judge, acknowledging the lawsuit filed Nov. 23 in the small northern Michigan county had “taken on momentum” well beyond the court’s boundaries, said the names and professional affiliations of the forensic experts should be released.
“The court system is an open one and when one participates in it there is a loss, if you will, of privacy absent some specific clear threat against a person that is actionable,” Elsenheimer said. “I’ve seen nothing here beyond the comm- unications I’ve already discussed here on the record that would justify that kind of extraordinary limitation on this court file. So the motion is denied.”
Phone numbers, home addresses and email addresses could be kept private, the judge said.
A second motion by DePerno to compel Benson’s office to produce extensive discovery documents, was parried back and forth between DePerno and attorneys for the Secretary of State, the Attorney General’s office and Antrim County.
In December, Benson successfully filed a motion to intervene and be added to the lawsuit against Antrim County as a named defendant, the action brought in outside attorneys and Elsenheimer was quick to instruct on local court practice.
He suggested a telephone conversation between DePerno and Grill could have resolved some of the issues without using court time.
“For future reference this court will expect that the attorneys will have had a conversation regarding any issue regarding discovery, its production, its lack of production, scheduling etcetera,” Elsenheimer said. “This, as far as the court is concerned, as far as the Circuit is concerned, is basics of practicing law.”
Documents required of the Secretary of State were narrowed in scope, after a discussion found DePerno’s original requests to be vague and overly broad.
Grill has until Feb. 1 to produce information requested, such as communications between Benson’s office and Antrim County, the state legislature, and tech companies Apple, Facebook and Google.
Grill will draft the order on release of the forensic experts names and DePerno will draft the order on release of discovery documents and submit them to Elsenheimer.