Fontes asks court to order Finchem to pay $75,000 for bringing 'groundless' election challenge
Secretary of State Adrian Fontes wants Mark Finchem, the Republican Fontes defeated in last year’s election, to pay nearly $75,000 in attorney’s fees for filing what a judge said was a “groundless” lawsuit to overturn the election.
Finchem lost by more than 120,000 votes, but still filed an election contest in which the conspiracy-friendly former legislator claimed Fontes only won because of massive election malfeasance at the hands of Maricopa County and then-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
He provided no evidence that anything affected the election outcome, and his attorney mused in court that he would likely be disbarred and sanctioned for making the claims.
Finchem wanted the election results overturned, a statewide hand-recount of all ballots and a court order that the attorney general investigate Hobbs, who was elected governor in the same election, for what he claimed was self-dealing and threatening public officials.
Earlier this month, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Melissa Julian said the lawsuit was brought in bad faith, as many of the claims brought by Finchem would not have materially affected the outcome of his election even if they were true.
“None of Contestant Finchem’s allegations, even if true, would have changed the vote count enough to overcome the 120,000 votes he needed to affect the result of this election,” Julian wrote in her ruling, adding that his claims were “groundless.” Finchem has appealed that ruling.
Julian also told Fontes he could ask the court to order Finchem to pay the legal fees incurred by both his campaign and the Secretary of State’s Office.
On March 21, Fontes’s campaign requested more than $67,000 in attorney’s fees. And On March 27, the Secretary of State’s Office said it spent more than $7,000 fighting the case.
In response, Cave Creek attorney Daniel McCauley, who represents Finchem, filed a motion opposing the sanctions and claiming that Fontes did not incur attorney fees, despite Fontes’ attorneys attaching detailed exhibits showing the cost of their work.
Julian slammed both Finchem and McCauley in her March 1 ruling, nothing that, while there needs to be a balance on bringing sanctions against litigants for election contests as not to cause a “chilling effect” for those who bring proper concerns, Finchem’s case was brought in “bad faith” — and McCauley and Finchem either knew or should have known the claims were frivolous.
She cited statements and actions by Finchem and McCauley as the basis for this claim. One statement was made by McCauley in December when Julian initially dismissed the election contest, opening up the possibility for sanctions.
“I took this (case) because they needed somebody to do this,” McCauley said at the dismissal hearing. “I guess it does not matter if I get sanctioned here. I’m 75, semi-retired, and it will be two years or so before they get to it.”
That comment, Julian said in her ruling, supported her decision to allow sanctions in the case.
Finchem is facing sanctions in two other cases as well. One is in an election lawsuit he joined with failed GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake that sought to ban certain voting equipment, while the other is in a case where he claimed former Democratic State Representative Charlene Fernandez defamed him and others.
Finchem has used the sanctions as a fundraising opportunity, sending out emails and making posts on his social media asking for donations to his campaign website to help pay for the sanctions.
“I’m appealing but need $120k to take this all the way to the US SCOTUS,” Finchem said in a plea to his followers on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, followed by a link to donate.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.