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Photo: David Jennings/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

A federal judge in Colorado on Monday ordered two lawyers who brought an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the 2020 election results to pay more than $186,000 to cover the legal fees of the groups they sued, including Facebook (now Meta) and Dominion Voting Systems.

Driving the news: Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter said the lawsuit "has been used to manipulate gullible members of the public and foment public unrest." He added that the two lawyers, Gary Fielder and Ernest John Walker, "should have known better" and they "need to take responsibility for their misconduct."

Catch up quick: Fielder and Walker filed a lawsuit last December on behalf of 160 million voters alleging that there was a secret plan to purposefully steal the election from Donald Trump and give the victory to President Biden.

  • Dominion and Facebook — namely Mark Zuckerberg and his wife — planned the scheme, Fielder and Walker baselessly alleged in their initial complaint.
  • Neureiter dismissed the lawsuit in April, calling it a "fatally flawed case."

What they're saying: These "attorneys have a higher duty and calling that requires meaningful investigation before prematurely repeating in court pleadings unverified and uninvestigated defamatory rumors that strike at the heart of our democratic system and were used by others to foment a violent insurrection that threatened our system of government," Neureiter wrote in his order Monday.

  • He added the lawsuit had an "apparent lack of standing," adding that it was "arguably deceptive."
  • "I conclude that the repetition of defamatory and potentially dangerous unverified allegations is the kind of 'advocacy' that needs to be chilled. Counsel should think long and hard, and do significant pre-filing research and verification, before ever filing a lawsuit like this again."

Details: Neureiter ruled that the lawyers should pay $50,000 to Facebook and $62,930 to Dominion, as well as $62,930 to Center for Tech and Civil Life, an election reform advocacy organization.

  • He also ordered the lawyers to pay Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan State Secretary Jocelyn Benson, as well Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Kathy Boockvar, former Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
  • The two lawyers previously argued they did not file the lawsuit in bad faith, per the Washington Post.
  • The judge put the order to pay on hold, pending an appeal of the dismissal of the lawsuit.

Fielder in an emailed statement called the order to pay the legal fees "unfathomable."

  • "We are not going to stop fighting for the rights of the people to vote in free and fair Presidential elections," he added.

The big picture: In August, a federal judge sanctioned several pro-Trump attorneys, including ex-campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, over an unsuccessful lawsuit that attempted to overturn Michigan’s 2020 election results.

  • Rudy Giuliani, Trump's former personal attorney, was suspended from practicing law in New York after he made false statements about the 2020 election to courts, lawmakers and the public.

Read Monday's ruling:

Editor's note: This story has been updated with Fielder's emailed statement.

Go deeper

ODU professor on leave amid protests over research on pedophilia

Old Dominion University in Richmond, Virginia on July 18, 2015. Photo: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Old Dominion University put a professor on administrative leave following an uproar over their research into people who are sexually attracted to children.

Driving the news: "Reactions to Dr. Walker's research and book have led to concerns for their safety and that of the campus," the public university wrote in a statement on Nov. 16, adding that Professor Allyn Walker's leave is "effective immediately."

Updated 11 hours ago - Technology

From Malcolm X to "Free Britney," new media shapes the justice system

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

True crime documentaries, podcasts and social media campaigns are bringing new attention to real-world legal proceedings — and are often affecting the outcome.

Why it matters: New media platforms can instantly put a national spotlight on cases that have long been forgotten or buried under red tape.

Updated 13 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.