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Judge dismisses Nevada fake electors case over lack of jurisdiction

Judge Mary Kay Holthus ruled that Clark County was not an appropriate place to decide the case.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
CourtsElection 2020

A Clark County judge has dismissed the charges filed against the six Nevada Republicans who submitted an invalid slate of electoral votes for former President Donald Trump in 2020, ruling that the county was not the appropriate jurisdiction for the case. 

At a Friday morning hearing in Clark County District Court, Judge Mary Kay Holthus said she was unconvinced by state prosecutors’ arguments that Clark County was the appropriate county in which to hear the case. The electors’ attorneys had argued a more appropriate venue would be in Carson City, where the illegitimate signing ceremony took place, or in Douglas County, where the fake elector documents were originally mailed from. 

Clark County is more Democratic, meaning a jury could be less favorable to the Republican defendants.

“You have literally, in my opinion, a crime that has occurred in another jurisdiction,” Holthus said. “It’s so appropriately up north and so appropriately not here.”

Immediately after the ruling, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said the “judge got it wrong” and that his office will appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court. A trial set for January has been vacated pending the high court’s ruling.

The state is unable to refile the case up north because a three-year statute of limitations expired in December.

Maggie McLetchie, a lawyer for one of the defendants, said of the state: “They’re done.”

The ruling marks the first time that a case related to the Trump campaign’s efforts to submit a false slate of electors has been dismissed. Similar prosecutions are taking place in four other swing states —  Michigan, Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin — involved in the Trump campaign’s effort to submit a false slate of electors after he lost the 2020 election to President Joe Biden.

The six defendants — Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald, Republican National Committeeman Jim DeGraffenreid, Clark County GOP Chairman Jesse Law, state party Vice Chair Jim Hindle, Shawn Meehan and Eileen Rice — were each indicted on two counts by a grand jury in December over their role in submitting fake election documents to federal and state election authorities that purported to cast Nevada’s six electoral votes for Trump.

The defendants faced charges of offering a false instrument for filing and uttering a forged instrument, which together carry punishments of two to nine years’ imprisonment. 

In a sign of Holthus’ skepticism of the jurisdiction, she requested last month that the state provide a list of reasons why Clark County was the appropriate venue for the case. 

Prosecutors listed 14 reasons why Clark County was the appropriate jurisdiction, including that two of the defendants — Law and McDonald — live in Clark County and that certain mail related to the fake elector scheme passed through the county. Most notably, fraudulent electoral documents were mailed to a federal judge in Las Vegas.

Attorney Richard Wright, who is representing McDonald, argued that the fraudulent documents addressed to Miranda Du, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Nevada, were erroneously sent to Las Vegas. Du is based in Reno, and the documents were never opened in Las Vegas, according to testimony from the court clerk, which Wright said was withheld from the grand jury.

“It temporarily made a pit stop in Las Vegas,” Wright said.

Meanwhile, Matthew Rashbrook, a lawyer with the attorney general’s office, said Clark County became implicated in the scheme when these documents were mailed to Las Vegas, even if they were rerouted to Reno.

Holthus ultimately concluded this was not enough to warrant Clark County being the most appropriate venue. 

Rashbrook also argued that there is no single county that could have complete jurisdiction over the case, to which Holthus responded by saying she disagreed “100 percent.”

Wright also said the motion to dismiss the case was supported by a 2021 Nevada Supreme Court ruling involving murders committed in Washoe and Douglas counties. The high court ruled at the time that if a location was only involved in preparatory acts and the formation of intent, it is an insufficient venue for a trial. Holthus did not cite the case in issuing her decision.

The decision caps months of back-and-forth between election attorneys and state prosecutors that included allegations of withheld evidence. It also marks a loss for Ford, a Democrat, in a case that has had national resonance.

Ford said that current state law “did not directly address the conduct in question” during a May 2023 hearing for SB133, a bill that would have criminalized such schemes (and was later vetoed by Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo). Seven months later, Ford brought the charges, saying that his office had been conducting an investigation into the scheme for years and denying that it was politically motivated. 

The charges came days before a three-year deadline expired for charges to be filed.

Validity of charges

While the validity of the charges were not ultimately addressed on Friday, the false electors’ attorneys had previously challenged the constitutionality of the allegations. They argued that the state’s claim that the fake electors intended to defraud state and federal officials was inaccurate, and that the documents were not forged but rather genuine documents containing “false information.”

This challenge hinged on grand jury testimony of Kenneth Chesebro, a Trump campaign lawyer who cooperated with the state’s investigation last year by saying that the purpose of the fake documents was to have backups ready in case courts overturned the results of the election in the contested states. 

State investigators noted that the Nevada Supreme Court had dismissed the Trump campaign’s legal challenge to the 2020 election on Dec. 8 — six days before the fake elector ceremony. The prosecution argued that this showed the fake elector documents should have been unnecessary under Chesebro’s plan, proving that the defendants intended to defraud state and federal officials.

But attorneys representing the defendants said this plan was never discussed with Nevada’s fake electors, only as part of a broader strategy with other Trump team members. In addition, despite the state Supreme Court’s ruling, the Trump campaign was still permitted to file a request for review of the case — also known as a writ of certiorari — to the U.S. Supreme Court, which never ultimately transpired.

These arguments were scheduled to be addressed on Friday, but the case’s dismissal on the other grounds rendered them moot.

Updated on 6/21/24 at 12:05 p.m. to correct that Ford said the judge got the decision wrong, and again at 1:25 p.m. to add additional details.


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