By Tierney Sneed, CNN
Updated: Sat, 14 May 2022 14:43:06 GMT
A Colorado judge rejected a request by several allies of former President Donald Trump that she dismiss a defamation case they're facing after hyping bogus 2020 election fraud claims.
The move Friday by District Judge Marie Avery Moses means that the defamation case will advance toward trial, opening the door to more extensive discovery that could shed light on the "big lie" narrative that propelled Trump's bid to overturn the election.
"There is no constitutional value in false statements of fact or the deliberate spread of dangerous and inflammatory political disinformation designed to sow distrust in democratic institutions," the judge wrote. "The public has an active interest in ensuring that there are remedies for defamatory statements."
The case was brought by Eric Coomer, a former Dominion Voting Systems executive, after several Trump allies falsely claimed that Coomer had been involved in a plot to rig the 2020 election.
On Friday, the Denver-based state court judge denied the requests by the defendants -- including the Trump campaign, Trump-aligned lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, and other prominent figures on the right -- that the case be dismissed.
She said that based on the evidence submitted so far in the case, Coomer "will be able to present the following credible evidence to a jury which would be sufficient to meet the clear and convincing evidentiary standard in support" of his legal claims.
At this stage of the proceedings, the judge must treat the evidence and claims put forward by Coomer as true. With that in mind, she said that Coomer had put forward evidence showing "actual malice" -- a standard Coomer will have to prove in order to succeed in trial.
"There is evidence that Giuliani's allegations against Coomer conformed to a preconceived storyline of fraud given his allegations of fraud after the election," the judge wrote. "Further, there is evidence that Giuliani had incentive to defame Coomer both in support of former President Trump and to maintain national attention. This evidence is sufficient to support a finding of actual malice."
Judge cites Trump allies' minimal vetting of election-rigging claims
Already, the case has revealed that Trump allies did little to investigate uncorroborated claims of election fraud before repeating them on the public stage. The discovery Coomer was entitled to at the motion-to-dismiss stage produced a Trump campaign memo -- written days before Giuliani and Powell held their infamous RNC news conference where they promoted election fraud claims -- that debunked several of the allegations the Trump lawyers went on to make.
As part of the motion to dismiss, Powell, Guliani and others who boosted Trump's lies about election fraud sat for depositions in which they said they only minimally reviewed the claims about Coomer before touting those allegations in front of a national audience.
"The Trump Campaign continues to take the position that the election was the result of fraud but has presented absolutely no facts in support of that claim, and no idea how Coomer could have aided in alleged election fraud," the judge wrote, referencing a deposition a campaign representative gave in the case.
While they were seeking to challenge Trump's electoral defeat in 2020, Powell and Giuliani both pointed to an uncorroborated claim -- made first by a conservative media figure in Colorado, Joe Oltmann -- that Coomer had bragged on a conference call organized by Antifa of a plot to rig the election for President Joe Biden.
"Giuliani had ample reason to know his information regarding Coomer was unreliable and false. Prior to making statements regarding Coomer at the November 19, 2020 press conference, Giuliani spent virtually no time investigating Coomer or the Antifa call," the judge wrote, noting Giuliani's remarks in the deposition.
The judge noted that Powell has continued "to claim that the statements were substantially true," but has "produced no evidence that would support a finding that any of these statements were true."
In a statement to CNN after the ruling, Powell said that she planned to appeal the "erroneous" ruling.
"My statements regarding Mr. Coomer arose from an affidavit sworn under penalty of perjury and was used in cases I was filing," she said. "The Colorado statute and the litigation privilege should apply to protect my speech. Lawyers and judges rely on sworn information to make decisions every day."
Oltmann is a defendant in the case, as is right-wing commentator Michelle Malkin, who hosted interviews with Oltmann, and Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft. Coomer also sued the far-right One America News network and its correspondent Chanel Rion, who showcased the claims in an OAN broadcast segment called "Dominion-izing the Vote."
The motions to dismiss put forward by those defendants were rejected as well.
"The court issued a comprehensive and well-reasoned opinion which adds another volume to the judiciary's wholesale rejection of baseless election fraud claims," Coomer's lawyer, Charlie Cain, said in a statement Friday evening. "There is a long road ahead, but this is a significant ruling for him and for the broader fight to safeguard our democracy."
Other efforts to hold those who pushed 2020 election lies accountable
Coomer's case is one of several legal efforts seeking to hold accountable those who served as mouthpieces for Trump's lies about 2020 election fraud.
A federal judge in Michigan has sanctioned Powell, and several other attorneys who worked on lawsuits challenging the results of the 2020 election, for the "frivolous" lawsuit they brought in that state. Powell and others facing sanctions have appealed the judge's order.
A similar effort in Wisconsin to seek sanctions for an election-reversal lawsuit filed there by Trump was unsuccessful.
Coomer's lawsuit is separate from the defamation cases that Dominion has brought, which include lawsuits in Washington, DC, against Powell, Giuliani and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, as well as a lawsuit Dominion filed in Delaware court against Fox.
Smartmatic, another election systems company that was the target of election fraud conspiracy theory, has also filed defamation lawsuits against several purveyors of those claims.
This story has been updated with additional details and reaction.