Bush versus Gore it is not.

Twenty years ago, titans of the legal industry faced off before the US Supreme Court over the results of a presidential election. The lawyers representing Al Gore and George W Bush — David Boies, who took on Microsoft in a landmark antitrust trial, versus Ted Olson, a partner at Gibson Dunn with numerous high court cases under his belt — were considered some of the best of their generation.

The ranks of younger attorneys supporting them would eventually yield a senator, cabinet secretary and three Supreme Court justices.

Now, as President Donald Trump challenges election results in multiple states while tweeting about “fraud”, despite providing no credible evidence to support it, big-name law firms are largely steering clear of the fight.

The most notable exception, Jones Day, which counts Mr Trump as a longtime client, is taking a public beating for representing the Pennsylvania Republican party in a mail-in ballot case before the US Supreme Court.

The firm has defended its work for the state party, saying it presented an “important and recurring rule-of-law question under the US Constitution.”

Two others of modest size — Porter Wright Morris & Arthur and Snell & Wilmer — have bowed out of Trump campaign litigation this week, leaving a handful of mostly small firms and solo practitioners to steer the ship.

As Mr Trump and the GOP fight to hold on to the White House, they are being represented in court by some lawyers who are intertwined with conservative causes. Some of them have taken a browbeating from the bench over the quality of their evidence, or lack thereof.

The political division in the US has increased the reputational risk that law firms run by accepting the president as a client. The case also is simply harder: Mr Trump would have to change thousands of votes — not the hundreds at stake in Bush v Gore — in multiple states where he trails Mr Biden.

READ ALSO  Green gold: how sustainability became big business for consumer brands

“If I’m an outside lawyer at a prestigious firm looking at that, I may say, ‘I don’t want to get involved in that because it seems like a lost cause’,” said David Lat, a managing director at legal recruiter Lateral Link and founder of the legal news website Above the Law.

Then there is the challenge posed by Mr Trump himself.

Despite Mr Trump’s Twitter claims of election fraud on a mass scale, his campaign’s lawyers have struggled to produce evidence that has stood up in court. They risk sanctions if they are shown to have misled the court.

“President Trump has a habit of saying whatever comes into his head,” said Fred Bartlit, a Chicago lawyer who was on the trial team in Bush v Gore.

“This means he often offers opinions on things he has no personal knowledge of. And this means that on cross-examination he will frequently be proven to have made a statement that is not true, which is the best way to destroy credibility.

“He believes he knows more than anyone else around him. For this reason, no lawyer, however skilled and experienced, could ever convince him to stop making off-the-cuff factual statements.”

Mr Bartlit also noted that the person overseeing Mr Trump’s legal team, David Bossie, a former deputy campaign manager, was not a lawyer himself. “That is really an odd thing to do in the most complicated litigation in a long time,” he said.

So the cause of advancing Mr Trump’s litigation has fallen to lawyers such as Jonathan Goldstein, the co-founder of a 12-lawyer firm who has been recognised by the National Rife Association, the gun lobby, for his legal work and belonged to the legal team representing the 2004 Republican ticket in Pennsylvania.

READ ALSO  The coronavirus pandemic - Another covid-19 vaccine joins the party | Science & technology

In a courtroom in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Judge Richard Haaz grilled Mr Goldstein about 592 ballots he wanted to disqualify. Mr Biden has so far received about 63,000 more votes in Pennsylvania than Mr Trump.

Mr Goldstein called the ballots “a mistake”.

“I understand,” the judge said. “I am asking you a specific question, and I am looking for a specific answer. Are you claiming that there is any fraud in connection with these 592 disputed ballots?”

“To my knowledge at present, no,” Mr Goldstein replied.

In Michigan, Judge Cynthia Stephens went in circles with Mr Trump’s campaign lawyer Mark “Thor” Hearne, who briefly headed a non-profit in the mid-aughts known as the American Center for Voting Rights that promoted voter identification laws.

The campaign wanted to stop vote counting in Detroit because a Republican poll watcher said an unidentified individual told her about invalid ballots.

“So I want to make sure I understand you,” Judge Stephens said. “The affiant is not the person who had knowledge of this. Is that correct?

“The affiant had direct first-hand knowledge of the communication with the elections inspector and the document they provided them,” Mr Hearne replied.

“OK, which is generally known as hearsay, right?”

“I would not think that’s hearsay, Your Honour.”

In her order dismissing the case, Judge Stephens referred to what the poll watcher had said as “inadmissible hearsay within hearsay”. The campaign appealed against the decision, only to receive an answer saying that its filing was “defective”.

In Arizona, where the Trump campaign was contesting ballots in Maricopa county, Kory Langhofer, a partner at a small firm, Statecraft, faced a courtroom grilling in which he was forced to defend statements of alleged voter fraud collected online, and admitted that he was not alleging fraud or election stealing, but rather a “limited number” of “good faith errors”.

READ ALSO  Health service in Italy’s poor south at mercy of Covid and crime

On Friday afternoon the Trump campaign dropped the lawsuit, saying “the tabulation of votes statewide has rendered unnecessary a judicial ruling as to the presidential electors” — as several media outlets finally called the state for Mr Biden.

Via Financial Times