A local state House election’s narrowly decided results are still under challenge months later in a miniature version of Republican Party attempts to question the Nov. 3 vote in Georgia and Fulton County. The lawyer who originally filed the challenge was involved in then President Trump’s infamous phone call with Georgia officials where he sought to “find” votes to overturn his loss in the state.

The target is House District 52, which includes parts of Buckhead and Sandy Springs. On Nov. 3, Democratic challenger Shea Roberts ousted Republican incumbent Deborah Silcox by 377 votes. While Roberts went on to represent the district for the entire 2021 legislative session, Silcox never publicly conceded. Unknown to Roberts herself for weeks, a lawsuit contesting the election results was filed by Warren Schmitz Jr., a resident of Sandy Springs’ High Point neighborhood who is a plaintiff in at least one other Fulton County election system legal challenge. 

The lawsuit makes various claims of illegally cast votes. Questioned by a Fulton County Superior Court judge on its merits and dismissed in April on procedural issues, the lawsuit is now the subject of a motion of reconsideration to keep it alive and, as a backup, an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Silcox is not directly involved in the lawsuit herself, but is not asking for it to be killed, either. “My comment about the case is simply that I want the truth to come out,” Silcox said in a text message.

“She could stop this if she simply acknowledged that she lost this race,” replied Roberts. “I’m not sure what truth she’s looking for, but it sounds like she’s listening to Trump and not the facts.”

The lawsuit names the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections and director Richard Baron as defendants. The county did not respond to a comment request. Roberts is not a defendant, but filed to intervene in the lawsuit and called for its dismissal.

Alex Kaufman.

The attorney originally filing the challenge on Schmitz’s behalf was Alex Kaufman, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran in 2018 and 2020 for the House District 51 seat in Sandy Springs and Roswell. Kaufman was among those who joined the Jan. 2 phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger about election results that, among other effects, has spawned a criminal investigation of possible election-law violations. Kaufman, who has said he listened to the call as a representative of local Republican officials, was forced to resign from the firm Fox Rothschild in the wake of the controversy. 

Kaufman, who did not respond to a comment request, was replaced in the lawsuit by Ray Smith III, an attorney based in Sandy Springs. 

Josh McLaurin.

In a local plot twist, one of Roberts’ attorneys is Josh McLaurin, who is also the state representative who defeated Kaufman in both District 51 elections. The 2018 race itself was the subject of Republican legal challenges, as the county party attempted to boot McLaurin, a Sandy Springs Democrat, from the ballot on residency issues and accused him of misconduct. The residency challenge was filed by Gabriel Sterling, a former Sandy Springs City Council member who also became nationally known in the Trump election controversy as a critic of the president’s claims of fraud and condoning of violent responses.

McLaurin acknowledged with a laugh the unusual situation of getting involved in a case involving a current State House colleague, a former colleague and a recent competitor. He said it’s partly about friendship, partly about his experience with such contests and intrigues, and partly the wild time of local political figures becoming embroiled in the historic election dispute.

“I definitely wanted to help defend my friend and colleague,” McLaurin said of Roberts. As for Silcox, he said, “Deb is a loyal Republican, and unfortunately on this one, I think her team has really let her down.”

Then there’s the bigger picture of Trump’s claims of a “stolen” election in Georgia and other states, which has spawned scores of lawsuits, so far unsuccessful in overturning any results and in many cases being debunked as conspiracy theories or otherwise baseless. McLaurin says the House District 52 lawsuit is happening “because the GOP is continuing to message, to fundraise, to hoodwink its base into thinking the 2020 election was stolen.” In that vein, he had choice criticism for his own former election competitor for filing the lawsuit.

“Why does Kaufman find himself in a conversation with Trump and Raffensperger that is potentially grounds for criminal indictment… [and] caught up in all that intrigue? … Because he and a number of other attorneys seem to want to butter their bread with this kind of garbage litigation,” said McLaurin.

Smith, the current attorney for the plaintiff, says the complaint is valid. It makes various allegations of votes from people outside the district, votes cast by eligible voters on the wrong ballot, and the possibility of illegally “harvested ballots.”

“Our underlying claim is fact-based,” he said in an email. “Ms. Silcox lost by a little more than 300 votes. We have hard evidence (not conspiracy theories) of over 800 folks that voted illegally in the district, over double the margin of victory. We have boxes of affidavits in my office to support these contentions.”

McLaurin and his law partner, Adam Sparks, say those are speculative and unproven claims, one of which also showed up in one of the now dismissed lawsuits challenging the presidential election results. They also note the complaint changed significantly between the original filing in late November and a heavily amended version filed in April.

So far, the lawsuit’s main problems have been timing and process issues that led to the court dismissal in April. Smith acknowledges issues with serving notice to parties in the case but says it was the fault of the court. 

Roberts says the way she was served papers is why she switched from staying quiet about the lawsuit — not wanting controversy to “overshadow” her first session — to hiring the Democratic political consulting firm Southern Majority to publicize it. She says that after the case was already dismissed, a sheriff’s deputy interrupted her Mother’s Day dinner to serve her papers. Roberts calls that “harassment” in a time of deteriorating politics.

“And I believe this is part of the national movement by these Trump allies, whatever you want to call them — ‘Big Lie’ bullies is my latest word for them,” she said. “…I feel like we’ve gone down this rabbit hole and we just can’t get out and everything just gets more bizarre. And the really scary part to me is there just is no respect for the rule of law anymore among lawyers, among politicians.”

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.