Minnesota lawyer sanctioned over election challenges
‘Bamboozled’ voters ended up as plaintiffs
A Minnesota attorney who filed legal challenges to the November election of five congressional Democrats was given a $10,000 sanction Friday after a judge found she “bamboozled” voters into signing on as plaintiffs without their knowledge or permission.
“Susan Shogren Smith … perpetrated a fraud against this court and, more importantly, perpetrated a fraud against these plaintiffs,” Ramsey County Chief District Judge Leonardo Castro said from the bench.
Shogren Smith is a member of the MN Election Integrity Team, a conservative group that sought to prevent the state from certifying its election results while President Donald Trump and his allies promoted unfounded claims of election fraud.
On Dec. 1, she filed five complaints in Ramsey County District Court, naming as defendants Secretary of State Steve Simon and the Democratic candidates who won their Congressional races.
Those legal challenges were filed in the names of 14 separate voters, at least four of whom had no idea they were participating.
Castro ruled in the defendants’ favor on Dec. 18 and closed the cases.
But it wasn’t until February when Republican activist Corinne Braun discovered her name was connected to one of the cases. She testified Friday that on a whim, she searched her own name in the state’s online court records system and was stunned to see the result.
“To my horror, I saw that I had sued Steve Simon and Ilhan Omar. It was a surreal moment for me,” she said, likening the discovery to finding her car had been broken into.
Braun testified she had received an anonymous email asking to add her name to a list of disgruntled voters. She filled out the form and signed her name and then forwarded the email to about 5,000 people on her mailing list.
As Shogren Smith explained in court, what Braun had signed was an affidavit that agreed she “will be joining with other voters across Minnesota to contest Minnesota election results.”
Braun, though, said she didn’t understand the implications.
“To me, that meant the same as going online and signing a petition,” Braun said. “As a lay person, an affidavit doesn’t mean anything.”
Through her questioning, Shogren Smith explained to Braun that contesting an election in Minnesota means filing a lawsuit. At that point, Judge Castro interrupted to suggest the explanation was long overdue.
“You should have had this conversation with your client back in November and not now,” he said.
Shogren Smith acknowledged she never spoke with the plaintiffs or informed them of the outcome of the case, even when Braun and two other unwitting plaintiffs were ordered to pay $3,873 to the defendants at the conclusion of the case.
Shogren Smith said she believed someone else with the MN Election Integrity Team was having those conversations with plaintiffs.
“I absolutely believed that those conversations were happening with these plaintiffs,” she said.
The group ended up paying the court costs for the plaintiffs.
Castro, who scheduled Friday’s hearing after Braun wrote him to complain about being named in the case, abruptly ended it after one hour, uncertain of his next move. It’s possible the cases will be nullified.
Either way, Braun’s name and those of the other two women will be taken off the Omar case, leaving it without a plaintiff.
“This is not a position I think I’ve ever found myself in,” Castro said.