State ordered to pay attorney fees in election security lawsuit

Attorneys who represented the National Election Defense Coalition in a lawsuit seeking information about the security of Indiana’s voting machines have been awarded nearly $50,000 in fees and costs after a Marion Superior judge found the plaintiff had substantially prevailed in the case.

In an order issued Thursday, Marion Superior Judge Heather Welch order Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson’s office to pay NEDC’s attorneys fees of $48,683.20 and costs of $219.95 for a total award of $48,903.15. The defendant was also ordered to pay the fees and costs to NEDC’s counsel within 30 days of the order.

The lawsuit, National Election Defense Coalition v. Connie Lawson, 49D01-1906-PL-024866, started June 20, 2019. Attorneys for the plaintiff are William Groth of Vlink Law Firm LLP, Indianapolis, and John Bonifaz and Ben Clements of Free Speech of People in Massachusetts.

NEDC, a nonpartisan nonprofit with a mission to promote secure, reliable and transparent elections, had filed its complaint requesting the court make the Indiana Secretary of State comply with the Indiana Access to Public Records Act. According to the plaintiff, Lawson’s office repeatedly denied or delayed turning over documents that would support her “frequently issued statements” about the security and trustworthiness of the voting systems in the United States.

“As a leader of (the National Association of Secretaries of States), Secretary Lawson’s comments can be especially influential in shaping U.S. policy necessary to secure our election infrastructure,” the complaint stated. “NEDC seeks information about origins of Secretary Lawson’s public statements related to her position in NASS leadership.”

June 23, 2020, Welch ordered the Secretary of State’s office to give to the court  the materials it had been withholding under the counterterrorism exception.  The court then reviewed the information.

“Despite having provided the documents for review, neither the Defendant nor the Indiana Counterterrorism and Security Council, (“ICSC”), had provided any explanation of how disclosure of these records would cause a reasonable likelihood of threatening public safety by exposing a vulnerability to terrorist attack pursuant to (Indiana Code section) 5-14-4-4.4(b)(1),” Welch wrote in the Jan. 28 order.

The court issued an order Oct. 9, 2020, telling Lawson to turn the documents over to NEDC with limited redactions.

Lawson’s office argued against the plaintiff’s fee request, asserting the award was contingent upon the court entering final judgment and putting the case in a position for appeal. The defendant, therefore, asked the court that any requirement to pay any fee and costs be stayed until the final resolution of the case.

The court denied the request, finding “no just reason” for a delay.

“This Judgment is full, complete, and final judgment in this case,” Welch wrote. “The SOS is required to provide the records from the Court’s October 9, 2020 order and to pay attorneys’ fees and costs as held in this order.”

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