Emily Newman, an attorney on Sidney Powell’s “kraken” legal team fighting the results of the 2020 presidential election, has hired Big Law firm Winston & Strawn to defend her ahead of a sanctions hearing in Michigan that could end in disbarment.
Winston partner Tom Buchanan is representing Newman, according to a notice filed in court Thursday. Newman, a former Trump administration official, is among a group of lawyers including Powell facing possible sanctions over a failed lawsuit to overturn election results in Michigan.
Buchanan is co-head of Winston’s Foreign Corrupt Practice Act Task Force and was previously managing partner of the firm’s Washington office. He joins the litigation as several large firms have quickly moved to distance themselves from former President Donald Trump and court battles challenging his loss in the election last year.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in January asked District Judge Linda V. Parker to sanction Powell, Newman, and the other attorneys for pursuing “frivolous” legal claims and refusing to dismiss the case “when their claims became moot.”
Parker will consider the request in video hearing scheduled for July 12. If granted, sanctions can ultimately result in disbarment, suspension, and monetary fines, among other disciplinary actions.
Bruce Green, a legal ethics professor at Fordham University’s School of Law, said he thinks it’s likely that the court will sanction the lawyers.
“Federal trial courts have a role in overseeing the professional conduct of the lawyers who appear before them, including by sanctioning lawyers for filing frivolous and vexatious litigation,” Green said in an email to Bloomberg Law. “There is not much that the court can do beyond impose monetary sanctions, but a disciplinary body can rely on the court’s findings to impose more serious sanctions—e.g., by suspending a lawyer for frivolous litigation.”
“So it makes sense for the lawyers involved to take this seriously, including by hiring well-regarded outside counsel,” Green said.
Newman, Buchanan, and Winston & Strawn did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Powell’s team has called the motion for sanctions “wholly meritless” and said their legal claims stem from “well-documented, bipartisan concerns about the security of our electronic voting systems in America.”
Newman was chief of staff for the U.S. Agency for Global Media during the Trump administration after serving as an advisor to the Homeland Security Department. She previously worked for Sidley Austin in Chicago, according to her financial disclosure.
Her new lawyer, Buchanan, joined Winston & Strawn in 1990, according to his LinkedIn profile. Before that, he worked for Heron, Burchette, Ruckert & Rothwell and began his career as assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Buchanan and Winston’s involvement with the case is a departure from many Big Law firms.
Foley & Lardner and Barnes & Thornburg both parted ways with partners that were involved with efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Seyfarth Shaw and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius dropped Trump and his businesses from their client lists days after the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.
Firms’ desire to distance themselves from the former president also extends to Trump’s old lawyers, who have faced a slower revolving door since leaving office.
The case in Michigan is one of four similar lawsuits that Powell described as a “kraken” that would overturn President Joe Biden’s White House win. Judges have dismissed her claims of a stolen election in Wisconsin, Georgia, and Michigan.
Nancy Moore, a legal ethics professor at Boston University’s School of Law, cautioned against drawing any inferences from Newman’s decision to hire Buchanan.
“Regardless of innocence, lawyers accused of unethical conduct typically take these allegations very seriously,” Moore said.
The case is King v. Whitmer, E.D. Mich. No. 20-cv-13134.