HOUSTON (AP) — An appeals court on Monday ordered the release of the leaders of a Texas-based group that promotes election conspiracy theories after they had been jailed last week for not complying with a court order to provide information in a defamation lawsuit over some of their claims.
Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips, who run True the Vote, had been detained since Oct. 31 after being held in contempt by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt in Houston.
Engelbrecht, Phillips and their nonprofit organization are being sued by Michigan-based election software provider Konnech Inc. over True the Vote’s claims of a Chinese-related conspiracy involving U.S. poll workers’ information.
The lawsuit alleges Houston-based True the Vote’s leaders illegally downloaded from Konnech’s server the personal data of 1.8 million U.S. poll workers. They were jailed by Hoyt after declining to reveal the names of everyone who helped them access the data.
In a one-page ruling, the 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals granted a request by lawyers for Engelbrecht and Phillips to free them while they appeal Hoyt’s order to detain them.
It was not immediately known when Engelbrecht and Phillips would be released. Michael Wynne, an attorney for the two, did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Konnech, which provides election software used to recruit and train poll workers, has been accused on social media by Engelbrecht and Phillips of storing the personal information of U.S. election workers in an unsecured server in China. Konnech says all of its U.S. customer data is secured and stored on “protected computers within the United States.”
Engelbrecht and Phillips have pointed out that Los Angeles County prosecutors recently charged Konnech’s CEO and founder, Eugene Yu, 65, with grand theft by embezzlement and conspiracy to commit a crime.
Prosecutors allege Konnech violated its contract with Los Angeles County by sending election workers’ information to a China-based subcontractor who helped fix Konnech software.
Gary S. Lincenberg, one of Yu’s attorneys, has denied the allegations.
Cellphone data analysis done by True the Vote was used by conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza in his film “2000 Mules” to try to show that Democratic operatives were paid to illegally collect and drop off ballots in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Independent fact-checkers, including at The Associated Press, found that True the Vote did not prove its claims. Election security experts say it is based on faulty assumptions, anonymous accounts and improper analysis of cellphone location data. Georgia election officials also have said the claims are false.
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