A federal magistrate has fined Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach $1,000 for presenting misleading arguments in a voting-related lawsuit, but won’t permit — for now — the release of a policy memo Kobach prepared for President-elect Donald Trump.
U.S. Magistrate Judge James O’Hara issued the ruling Friday in a lawsuit challenging a Kansas law requiring voters to present proof of U.S. citizenship when they register.
O’Hara said Kobach and his legal team “made patently misleading representations to the court” about the memo Kobach was photographed taking into a Nov. 20 meeting with Trump as well as another document proposing changes to the National Voter Registration Act, better known as the motor-voter law.
“The court cannot say that defendant flat-out lied in representing the content of the disputed documents,” the magistrate wrote in his 24-page decision.
But O’Hara added: “As officers of the court, defense counsel have a duty of candor to the court and to opposing counsel. Justice requires that all involved in our legal system work to ensure that a true and accurate picture of the facts is presented to the court. This means that parties and their attorneys must respond to discovery fairly and accurately and that counsel assert only arguments that are supported by facts.
“The court urges defense counsel to garner good reputations for themselves by taking care in the future to act honestly and graciously towards the court and opposing counsel,” the magistrate declared.
Pursuant to a court order, the Republican secretary of state turned over the policy memo to the plaintiffs in the suit but designated it as “confidential” — a marking that prevents the plaintiffs and their attorneys from making the memo public at this time.
Plaintiffs in the case, represented by the Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, asked O’Hara to remove the “confidential” designation. The magistrate, however, declined to do so, citing provisions in Kansas’ public records law protecting policy recommendations from mandatory disclosure.
Despite the ruling, the memo Kobach took into the meeting with Trump may well wind up in the public domain eventually. O’Hara suggested that if one of parties files the memo in court as part of formal pleadings in the case, it is likely to be made public.
Kobach could ask a district court judge to review the ruling. A spokeswoman for Kobach did not respond to email and phone messages seeking comment on the decision.
Kobach, who is a leader of efforts to tighten voting restrictions and restrict illegal immigration, was widely rumored as a potential pick for a top Trump administration post. However, no such appointment came to pass.
Last month, Trump did tap Kobach to serve as vice chairman of a presidential commission on election integrity. That group is tasked with following up on Trump’s as-yet-unsubstantiated claim that between 3 million and 5 million illegal immigrants voted in the 2016 election.