Judge will not sanction Kari Lake for failed election suit
Kari Lake and her lawyers will not face sanctions for bringing a suit that challenged her loss in the race for Arizona governor, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday.
Judge Peter Thompson on Christmas Eve ruled in favor of defendants, Gov-elect Katie Hobbs and Maricopa County, writing that Lake's lawyers failed to meet their burden of proof to show that intentional misconduct of election workers or officials led to Lake's 17,000-vote loss.
Lake has promised to appeal the judge's decision. She has the option of appealing to the Arizona Court of Appeals or the state Supreme Court, but the higher court could kick the case back down to the appeals court.
Also on Tuesday, Thompson denied the majority of the defendants' request for reimbursement of their attorneys' fees, which amounted to more than $600,000. He did award around $33,000 to Hobbs in reimbursement for expert testimony and ballot inspection fees.
Lake is a Trump-endorsed 2020 election denier who, in a two-day trial, attempted to convince Thompson that her loss was caused by a Maricopa County employee intentionally tampering with ballot printers, causing long lines and frustration for Election Day voters that disenfranchised tens of thousands of Republican voters. She also claimed that the county's failure to follow proper chain-of-custody laws for early ballots dropped off on Election Day led to an untold number of illegal ballots being added to the official count.
But Thompson ultimately ruled that she failed to prove those claims.
Thompson denied the defendants' request that he sanction Lake and her attorneys, Bryan Blehm and Kurt Olsen, for bringing the suit that Maricopa County described as "groundless" and "not made in good faith..
In response, Blehm argued that Lake's team "put forth evidence in good faith that showed substantial support for her claims—claims which also remain of great public concern."
Lawyer for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office Tom Liddy, argued that Lake brought the election challenge purely for political purposes, citing claims that Lake made on social media but that she failed to prove in court.
Liddy also highlighted a since-deleted Tweet that Lake made after Thompson ruled against her. The Tweet linked to an article suggesting that Thompson's decision in the case was ghost-written by a left-wing attorney.
"The entire purpose of this litigation was to plant baseless seeds of doubt in the electorate's mind about the integrity and security of the 2022 General Election in Maricopa County," Liddy wrote. "And while it is one thing to do so on TV or social media sites, it is another thing entirely to attempt to use the imprimatur of the courts to try to achieve that goal."
But Thompson did not agree with Liddy.
"There is no doubt that each side believes firmly in its position with great conviction," Thompson wrote. "The fact that Plaintiff failed to meet the burden of clear and convincing evidence required for each element of (the law) does not equate to finding that her claims were, or were not, groundless and presented in bad faith. Any decision must be based on the law and facts rather than subjective beliefs or partisan opinions, no matter how strongly held..
Liddy argued in his request for sanctions that Blehm must have known prior to filing the election suit that he could not prove his claims to the court, so he shouldn't have brought them in the first place.
Blehm initially filed 10 counts challenging the election, but Thompson only allowed two of them to move forward to trial, and significantly narrowed the scope of one of the two.
"The issues raised before this Court were of significant concern to millions of Arizona voters as to the causes of chaos that arose on Election Day—and the administration of elections in Maricopa County generally—and Plaintiff's claims deserved to be brought and heard," Blehm wrote in his response to the request for sanctions.
Lake's was one of three suits brought by Trump-backed Republican candidates for statewide office in Arizona that challenged their losses in the midterm election.
A suit brought by candidate for Secretary of State Mark Finchem was denied by a judge before it had the chance to go to trial and a Mohave County Superior Court Judge ruled against Attorney General candidate Abe Hamadeh immediately after his trial ended.
Finchem has filed his intent to appeal.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.