There have been a lot of crazy lawsuits since 2020. One of those lawsuits concerns True the Vote. True the Vote is a conservative Texas non-profit that has been around for many years. They participated in the opposition to the recall of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin. True the Vote was the primary source for the psuedo documentary, 2000 Mules. True the Vote is headed by Catherine Engelbrecht. Gregg Phillips sits on the board. Starting in 2021, True the Vote has been claiming that an election logistics company known as Konnech has stored the records of 1.8 million poll workers on servers based in China. Konnech denies these claims. Kenneth says it stores all its data on U.S. based servers. Konnech sued True the Vote for defamation.
True the Vote has claimed that it hacked its way into Konnech’s data files and looked at the records of 1.8 million poll workers. It has been saying that it hacked its way into the servers simply by guessing a simple password. True the Vote claims Konnech is owned by the Communist party of China. In reality, Konnech is owned by Eugene Yu, who lives in Michigan. True the Vote claims he is a Chinese “operative.”
Temporary Restraining Order
Konnech sought a temporary restraining order early in the suit. Judge Hoyt granted Konnech’s motion for a TRO at a September, 2022 hearing. The order prohibits True the Vote from accessing or attempting to access Konnech’s computers, or disclosing any contents of their computers. He also ordered the organization to provide more information about how they acquired their information. That the judge granted the request for a TRO is signficant. It means Judge Hoyt believes that Konnech’s case has some merit.
Early October Hearing
As with any lawsuit, Konnech has sought discovery of True the Vote’s basis for its claims. But, True the Vote resisted that discovery. Konnech then filed a motion to compel and sought sanctions from True the Vote for resisting those discovery requests. In a court hearing in early October, Judge Hoyt, grew visibly exasperated with the Defendants. In that hearing, the two lawyers for True the Vote resisted naming their source in court. For two hours in court, they argued that revealing the name of the person would expose him to danger. Judge Hoyt, however, insisted they disclose the name. The two lawyers then wrote the name on a legal pad and showed it to the Konnech lawyers. The Konnech lawyers then insisted the True the Vote lawyers read the name out loud in open court. They wanted a record showing the name had been provided, perhaps to ensure the True the Vote lawyers were providing truthful information. The True the Vote lawyers then read the name out loud, so it would be part of the court’s record.
Judge Hoyt, a federal judge since the 1980’s, then warned the True the Vote lawyers. He said he did not trust the veracity of Englebrecht and Phillips, in part because they had not submitted written affidavits in support of their defenses. The Judge suggested the True the Vote lawyers may be “getting played” by their clients.
And, of course, about the time of the early October hearing,. Eugene Yu was arrested in Los Angeles, California. True the Vote denied any involvement in his arrest. And, he was indeed charged with storing information on Chinese servers, in violation of a contract with Los Angeles.
Second October Hearing
Then, at a second hearing in October, Engelbrecht and Phillips appeared in court. And, again, the Judge grew impatient with True the Vote and their lawuers. It sounds to me like the lawyers simply lodged too many unsupported objections. For example, as the Judge would ask follow-up questions of Ms. Englebrecht, the True the Vote lawyer would object that the Judge was mis-characterizing Ms. Engelbrecht’s testimony. This is a modestly BS objection. Any witness can or should be able to address a mis-leading question. More often, when a lawyer objects that the witness’ testimony is being mis-characterized, in reality the lawyer is trying to signal to his/her client to be careful with that question. Too, objecting to how the judge phrases a question is sure way to antagonize the judge.
No surprisingly, Judge Hoyt became very annoyed and told the lawyer to take his seat and to not get up again. This was a very critical area of questioning. The Judge was asking who, when and how the data was allegedly obtained. As Engelbrecht testified, there was probably a second analyst involved in the alleged hacking. Too, the hacking itself may have never occurred. Her testimony was not clear. In various interviews on public media Ms. Engelebrecht and Mr. Phillips have variously said there was hacking, that there was no hacking, that there was no password, and that the password was easy to guess.
But, as the five hour hearing came to a close, Ms. Engelbrecht’s testimony still was not clear. There might have been a second analyst involved in whatever hacking or breach occurred. At the end of the hearing, with no fanfare, Judge Hoyt simply said he found Englebrecht and Phillips in contempt. That is also unusual. It is rare for a federal judge to rule from the bench at the close of a hearing. The Judge said he expected True the Vote to return to the courtroom by 9:00 am. Monday, and reveal the name of the second analyst. If the witnesses, Engelbrecht and Phillips did not appear, they would be arrested. It is also quite rare for a judge to warn Defendants they could be arrested for failure to appear. Clearly, he believed they might otherwise consider not appearing.
During their testimony, both Mr. Phillips and Ms. Engelbrecht had resisted providing the name of the second analyst, or even admitting there was a second analyst involved in some vague breach of Konnech’s computers. The two witnesses claimed such persons would be “doxed” and then be exposed to danger. Phillips claimed the second analyst was an informant to the FBI. The Judge expressed disbelief at the need for this sort of discretion, but still, they would not reveal the name of the second analyst.
And, yes, it turned out that Eugene Yu’s arrest was indeed based on a tip from True the Vote. As the judge’s decision registered in the court room, the 12 member True the Vote contingent stared at the judge unbelieving at first, and then rose from their table. See Texas Tribune report here.