Appellate Court invalidates restraining order against jailed True the Vote principals

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday invalidated the temporary restraining order of two Houston-based True the Vote members serving more than a week each behind bars in the defamation case pursued by East Lansing software company Konnech and its founder and CEO Eugene Yu.

Catherine Englebrecht and Gregg Phillips were arrested and jailed on Oct. 31 and charged with contempt of court for refusing to name an FBI informant who is the source of information they say shows Konnech and Yu illegally stored the personal information – including Social Security numbers – of an unknown number of election workers on a server located in China.

Konnech sued True the Vote for hacking its computers, which in turn, “then used a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, and a civil-contempt order to litigate the case on Konnech’s behalf,” according to the 5th Circuit’s response to the U.S. District Court’s previous ruling.

Responding to the lower court's demand True the Vote identify its source, two of the three Appellate Court judges asserted, “Such a demand makes perfect sense when made by a plaintiff in discovery. But the record does not reveal what sort of emergency justified the District Court’s demand for that information before the parties could file an answer … before the parties could file their initial disclosures, or before discovery could begin let alone conclude in the ordinary course.”

The judges continued to excoriate the lower court’s decision.

“Much less did the District Court explain what sort of emergency could warrant jailing the petitioner-defendants for not making such immediate disclosures. Rather, the District Court made clear that it was imposing its disclosure requirements because it – the District Court – wanted to add defendants to the lawsuit.”

In early October, Yu was arrested in East Lansing before being extradited and subsequently charged with grand theft by embezzlement by the Los Angeles district attorney’s office. True the Vote had alerted Los Angeles County DA George Gascón that PollChief software developed by Yu’s company, Konnech, had collected payroll, assignment, and communications data on millions of election workers. Gascón charged Yu with explicitly violating the terms of Konnech’s $2.6 million contract with the Los Angeles County by storing the employees’ information in China.

“The Fifth Circuit’s powerful ruling lays bare the excesses of Konnech, their attorneys, and the lower court,” True the Vote said in a statement on the group’s website. “The impermissible demands of Konnech, which were rubber stamped by the District Court, caused great harm to True the Vote as an organization, as well as Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips, who were imprisoned for over a week by Konnech and the court’s actions.”

The statement continued: “In addition, Engelbrecht and Phillips’ rights to openly speak on matters of public interest were impeded under the color of authority. But hear them clearly today; the investigation of Konnech and their activities continues across America. Catherine and Gregg offer their profound gratitude to the Fifth Circuit’s vindication and are committed more strongly than ever to defending the integrity of American elections.”

Last week, the DA’s office announced it was dismissing charges against Yu without prejudice to grant the prosecutors more time to assemble a cyber-forensics team to examine trillions of terabytes of data recovered from Konnech servers. Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times used three sources to report Deputy District Attorney Eric Neff has been placed on administrative leave with connection to the Konnech case.

The Center Square reported in early October that Konnech had received a $306,000 Michigan Economic Development Corporation grant in 2021.

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