Fake elector case in Nevada dismissed over venue question, state attorney general vows appeal

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada judge dismissed an indictment Friday against six Republicans accused of submitting certificates to Congress falsely declaring Donald Trump the winner of the state’s 2020 presidential election, potentially cutting from four to three the number of states with criminal charges pending against so-called fake electors.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said he’ll take the issue to the state Supreme Court after Clark County District Court Judge Mary Kay Holthus ruled that Las Vegas was the wrong venue for the case.

“The judge got it wrong and we’ll be appealing immediately,” Ford, a Democrat, told reporters afterward. He declined additional comment.

Defense attorneys bluntly declared the case dead, saying that to bring it now before another grand jury in another venue such as Nevada’s capital city of Carson City would violate a three-year statute of limitations that expired last December.

“They’re done,” said Margaret McLetchie, attorney for Clark County Republican party chairman Jesse Law, one of the defendants in the case.

The judge called off the trial, which had been scheduled for January, for defendants also including state GOP chairman Michael McDonald; national party committee member Jim DeGraffenreid; national and Douglas County committee member Shawn Meehan; Storey County clerk Jim Hindle; and Eileen Rice, a party member from the Lake Tahoe area. Each was accused of offering a false instrument for filing and uttering a forged instrument — felonies carrying a penalty of up to four or five years in prison.

Defense attorneys led by McDonald's lawyer, Richard Wright, said Ford improperly brought the case before a grand jury in Las Vegas — Nevada’s largest and most Democratic-leaning city — instead of Carson City or Reno, northern Nevada cities in a more Republican region where the alleged crimes occurred. They also accused prosecutors of failing to present to the grand jury evidence that would have exonerated their clients, who they said had no intent to commit a crime.

“Crimes are tried and venue lies in the venue in which the offense was committed,” Wright told the judge on Friday. “Signing the document occurred in Carson City.”

Challenged by Judge Holthus to respond, Deputy State Attorney General Matthew Rashbrook argued that “no one county contains the entirety of these crimes.”

“Society is the victim of these crimes,” the prosecutor said. “Voters who would have been disenfranchised by these acts ... would have been victims of these crimes.”

But the judge decided that even though McDonald and Law live in Las Vegas, “everything took place up north.”

After the court hearing, Hindle’s attorney, Brian Hardy, declined to comment on calls from advocacy groups for his client to resign from his elected position as overseer of elections in Storey County, a jurisdiction with a few more than 4,100 residents. Those calls included a news conference Friday outside the courthouse by leaders of three organizations.

The state Republican party issued a statement welcoming the court decision, pointing to Ford's vow to appeal and asking for contributions to continue the court fight.

Meehan is the only defendant not to have been named by the state party as Nevada delegates to the 2024 Republican National Convention next month in Milwaukee. His defense attorney, Sigal Chattah, said her client chose not to seek the position. Chattah ran as a Republican in 2022 for state attorney general and lost to Ford by just under 8% of the vote.

Nevada is one of seven presidential battleground states where slates of fake electors falsely certified that Trump had won in 2020, not Democrat Joe Biden. Others are Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Nevada’s case, filed last December, focused on the actions of six defendants. Criminal cases in three other states focus on many more — 16 in Michigan, 19 in Georgia and 18 in Arizona.

Kenneth Chesebro, a lawyer who pleaded guilty in Georgia last October to helping orchestrate the Trump campaign fake elector scheme in 2020, cooperated with prosecutors in the Nevada criminal investigation and was not charged.

In testimony before the grand jury that met in Las Vegas in November, Chesebro said he provided the state GOP with an “organized step-by-step explanation of what they would have to do” to sign and submit certificates falsely stating that Trump, not Biden, won in Nevada.

He also called Nevada “extremely problematic” to the fake elector plot, compared with other states, because the meeting of electors was overseen by the secretary of state. Also, unlike other states, Nevada did not have a legal challenge pending in courts at the time.

Trump lost Nevada in 2020 by more than 30,000 votes to Biden and the state’s Democratic electors certified the results in the presence of Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican. Her defense of the results as reliable and accurate led the state GOP to censure her, but Cegavske later conducted an investigation that found no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state.

Ken Ritter, The Associated Press