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Pennsylvania seeks legal costs from county that let outsiders access voting machines to help Trump

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A rural Pennsylvania county and its elected officials may have to pay the state elections agency hundreds of thousands of dollars to reimburse it for legal fees and litigation costs in a three-year battle over allowing outsiders to examine voting machines to help former President Donald Trump's claims of election fraud.

Last week, Secretary of State Al Schmidt asked a “special master” appointed by the Supreme Court to order the Republican-controlled Fulton County government, Commissioner Randy Bunch, former Commissioner Stuart Ulsh and their lawyer Thomas Carroll to repay the state an updated total of $711,000 for outside counsel’s legal fees and related costs.

Most of the latest set of $263,000 in fees, wrote Schmidt’s lawyers, came about because the Fulton officials “requested an evidentiary hearing regarding the appointment of a third-party escrow agent to take possession of the voting machines at issue — and then did everything in their power to delay and obstruct both the hearing itself and, more generally, the impoundment of the voting machines ordered by the Supreme Court.”

The reimbursement request was made based on a decision against the county issued by the high court in April.

The state Supreme Court this week also cautioned Fulton County officials that they must go through a lower-court judge before turning over voting equipment after the commissioners decided to allow a lawyer who has sought to reverse Trump's 2020 reelection loss to “utilize” the evidence for her clients “with common interests.”

The county's lawyer defended the 2-1 vote by the Fulton Board of Commissioners in December to provide Trump ally Stefanie Lambert, a Michigan attorney, with “evidence” used by the outside groups that the GOP officials let examine the Dominion Voting Systems Inc. machines in 2021 and 2022.

The court, Carroll wrote in a recent filing, “cannot enjoin Fulton County, or any other party from joining in litigation in which Dominion is involved.”

In a brief phone interview Friday, Ulsh said he wasn't aware of the recent filings, including the reimbursement request.

“If the commissioners want me to know something, they'll surely tell me,” Ulsh said. “I don't go into that office. I don't step in their business.”

Carroll and Bunch did not return phone messages seeking comment.

The justices’ brief order issued Wednesday also turned down a request by Fulton County to put on hold a judge’s order selecting the independent safekeeper for the Dominion machines the county used during the election, won by President Joe Biden.

The justices last year ordered that the Dominion-owned machines be placed in the custody of a “neutral agent” at the county’s expense, a transfer that Carroll said in a recent filing occurred last month.

Fulton County, with about 15,000 residents and in south-central Pennsylvania on the Maryland border, gave Trump more than 85% of its vote in 2020. Trump lost Pennsylvania to Biden by more than 80,000 votes.

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