Two leaders of a conservative Texas group that spreads election-related conspiracy theories were put in jail by a federal judge on Monday for allegedly refusing to comply with a court order.
Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips, of True the Vote, were taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Service on the basis of a court order issued by Houston-based U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt, according to the court docket and filings in the case.
The pair were subject to contempt hearings on Oct. 27, 2022, which were later adjourned to Halloween, for failing to comply with a temporary restraining order issued in early September of this year.
The underlying case is complex and deals with various legal issues.
The restraining order was issued in an ongoing defamation lawsuit in which Konnech, Inc., a Michigan-based elections software vendor, is suing the conservative group for claims that certain data was stored on an unsecured Chinese server – and for allegedly downloading information on millions of U.S. poll workers in violation of federal law.
The court instructed True the Vote to return any and all information gleaned from Konnech’s computer systems as well as to provide the names of any and all people who helped access such information. Konnech moved for contempt proceedings in late September.
The heart of that filing explains what led to the contempt finding:
Since this Court granted the TRO nine days ago, Konnech has endeavored, on an almost daily basis, to obtain Defendants’ voluntary compliance with the TRO. Instead of complying, however, Defendants have treated compliance with the TRO like a game of cat and mouse. Initially, Defendants took a blanket position that any Konnech data was obtained by an “independent contractor” and that they never took Konnech data from a “protected computer” and, therefore, the data they had was not covered by the TRO. However, when Konnech corrected Defendants’ fundamental misunderstanding of the term “protected computer”—which, as defined by the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, simply means a computer connected to the internet—Defendants changed their position to claim that any Konnech data that they obtained was from a “third party” who “was not contracted to us or paid by us,” that the data was “turned over to the FBI,” and that they no longer possess any Konnech data. Defendants’ position stands in stark contrast to their repeated public statements that their “guys” and “analysts” helped them to obtain Konnech’s data, and their repeated threats to publicly disclose it even after they said they turned it over to the FBI.
After several weeks of motions filed by both sides, Judge Hoyt held a contempt hearing and decided in Konnech’s favor.
“The Court found that defendants, Gregg Phillips and Catherine Engelbrecht, in contempt for failure to comply with the Courts ex parte temporary restraining order,” a minute order on the case’s federal docket notes. “Therefore, the defendants Gregg Phillips and Catherine Englebrecht, are ORDERED detained by the U.S. Marshal for one-day and further until they fully comply with the Courts Order as set out in the TRO.”
Hoyt explained the court’s reasoning in a follow-up order for confinement pending compliance:
The Court having previously found the defendants, Gregg Phillips and Catherine Engelbrecht, in contempt for failure to comply with the Court’s ex parte temporary restraining order that addresses: (a) unauthorized access by the defendants, their agents, assigns or entities, on the plaintiff’s protected computer network; (b) the return of all data belonging to Konnech; (c) the disclosure and/or the identity of all persons, entities who had or have possession, custody, control or access to any information located on Konnech’s protected computers; and, (d) to confidentially disclose to Konnech how, when, and by whom Konnech’s protected computers were access. The Court finds that, although time to cure and thereby render the holding of contempt moot was provided, the defendants have yet to comply with the Court’s order.
An additional minute order issued by the court later that same day noted that the two defendants would be held in the Joe Corley Detention Facility and charged “a rate of $85.61 a day.” The fees Engelbrecht and Phillips owe must be paid in advance of their release from jail, the judge ruled.
The U.S. Marshals Service confirmed to ABC News that the pair were taken into custody on Monday.
“Trust, honesty, and respect will always be our highest values, regarding both our work and our lives,” Englebrecht said in a statement provided to Law&Crime. “As a result, we will be held in jail until we agree to give up the name of a person we believe was not covered under the terms of the judge’s TRO. We ask that you keep us in your prayers. Thank you to those who continue supporting and believing in us and our mission to make elections safe for all parties and for all people.”
True the Vote additionally called for the pair to be released and accused Konnech of “wrongdoing.” Attorneys for the organization are expediting an appeal in hopes of getting Englebrecht and Phillips released.
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