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  • Writer's pictureOliver Hall

Federal Court Orders Democrats to Pay NC Greens' Attorney's Fees Arising From Challenge to Greens' 2022 Nomination Petitions

Court concludes Democrats pursued "frivolous" actions in effort to block Greens from North Carolina's 2022 general election ballot

RALEIGH, NC: United States District Judge James C. Dever, III today ordered the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ("DSCC") and the North Carolina Democratic Party ("NCDP") to pay attorney's fees to the North Carolina Green Party ("NCGP") arising from the Democrats' efforts to force the Greens off North Carolina's 2022 general election ballot.

Judge Dever concluded the Democrats had pursued actions that were "frivolous" or "without foundation" after intervening in a federal lawsuit the Greens filed against the North Carolina State Board of Elections in July 2022 following the Board's refusal to certify NCGP for the ballot.

The case effectively concluded on August 5, 2022, when Judge Dever ordered the Board to certify NCGP as a party and place its candidates, Matthew Hoh for U.S. Senate and Michael Trudeau for State Senate, District 16, on North Carolina's 2022 general election ballot.

Thereafter, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Democrats' appeal and Hoh and Trudeau appeared on the ballot, but Judge Dever retained jurisdiction to enforce his order and to grant further relief, including an award of attorney's fees.

NCGP settled its claim for attorney's fees against the Board, but the DSCC and NCDP refused to settle. NCGP therefore requested an award of fees against them.

"Unlike fee awards against state party defendants like the Board, fee awards against private intervenors like the DSCC and NCDP are extremely rare," said Oliver Hall of the Center for Competitive Democracy, which represented NCGP. "Courts only award fees against private intervenors if their actions were frivolous, unreasonable or without foundation -- but Judge Dever found the Democrats' conduct satisfied that standard here."

Specifically, by filing a lawsuit in state court seeking to prevent the Board from certifying the Greens for North Carolina's ballot, even though Judge Dever was already presiding over the same claims and issues in federal court, the Democrats "potentially subjected [the Board] to contempt of court via inconsistent judgments," Judge Dever observed.

The Democrats' "action in filing the state suit was frivolous," Judge Dever concluded.

Judge Dever also found the Democrats' effort to obtain a stay of his August 5, 2022 order placing the Greens on North Carolina's 2022 general election ballot was "without foundation."

"The record flatly contradict[ed] all of [the Democrats'] arguments," Judge Dever observed, and they "tilt[ed] at windmills out of fear that some voters will vote for the two Green Party candidates instead of the Democratic candidates."

The Democrats' effort to obtain the stay was also "frivolous," Judge Dever concluded.

Judge Dever ordered the DSCC and NCDP to pay NCGP only the attorney's fees it incurred specifically as a result of the Democrats' frivolous actions -- an amount totaling $6,525.00.

"This is a huge victory that was never about money," Hall said. "It was about holding the Democrats accountable for their improper and unfounded efforts to suppress North Carolina voters' choice in 2022, and today Judge Dever did so."

In a previous order, Judge Dever found the Democrats could not seek relief in the case because they had not come to court with "clean hands" -- meaning they had acted improperly in attempting to disrupt and delay the Greens' petition drive.

The Greens presented evidence that the DSCC and NCDP engaged in a massive effort (see pp. 8-9) to harass and intimidate voters who had signed the Greens' nomination petitions -- including by misrepresenting themselves as Board or Green Party personnel.

Judge Dever nonetheless found that he could not impose attorney's fees against the Democrats for these efforts because they occurred before the litigation commenced.

Still, this appears to be the first case in which a major party has been sanctioned for its improper attempt to thwart a minor party's effort to qualify for the ballot. For more details on that attempt, see here and here.

NCGP's lawsuit is cited as North Carolina Green Party v. NCSBE, 619 F. Supp. 3d 547 (E.D. N.C., August 5, 2022).

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