In a dizzying 30-page ruling, a federal judge ordered sanctions against the attorneys for Kari Lake and Mark Finchem in their lawsuit against the voting machines, hoping to deter “likely baseless proceedings in the future.”
Lake and Finchem, Trump-backed Republicans who failed to run for governor and secretary of state, filed a lawsuit in April seeking to block Maricopa and Pima counties from using any electronic device to cast or count votes. They asked the court to order counties to require paper ballots and to manually count all ballots issued.
US District Court Judge John Tuchi dismissed the lawsuit in August, calling it “conjectural allegations of possible injury.”
Before the firing, the five members of the Republican-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the defendants in the case, had called for sanctions over the “numerous false allegations about the Arizona elections” that the candidates and their attorneys did in their federal lawsuit.
In his order granting sanctions on Thursday, Tuchi struck hard at the arguments that Lake, Finchem and their lawyers made in what he called a “frivolous complaint.”
While the plaintiffs sought “massive, perhaps unprecedented, federal judicial intervention” to change Arizona’s electoral system ahead of the recent election, they “never had a factual basis or legal theory that came close to meeting that burden.” the judge wrote.
He added later in the 30-page order that he “would not condone litigants…promoting false narratives that baselessly undermine public trust at a time of growing misinformation and mistrust in the democratic process.”
Bill Gates, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said in a statement that the penalties were a “victory for the rule of law” and will serve as a consequence for those who file claims without merit or merit.
There are “too many examples in recent years of lawyers trying to weaponize the court for political purposes,” he said. “It’s wrong, it’s unethical, and these lawyers must be held accountable if we are to protect our democratic republic.”
Court records show that the out-of-state attorneys used by Lake and Finchem include Alan Dershowitz, an internationally renowned attorney, author, and Harvard Law School professor; three attorneys from Parker Daniels Kibort LLC, in Minnesota: Andrew Parker, Jesse Kibort, and Joseph Pull; and Kurt Olsen, a Washington, DC-based attorney who helped with a lawsuit against the 2020 election results that was rejected by the US Supreme Court.
Dershowitz emailed the following response, the only one of the attorneys to message back seeking comment:
“I have never questioned the results of any Arizona election,” Dershowitz wrote. “I have provided legal advice on the future use of vote counting machines by companies that refuse to disclose the inner workings of their machines. I support full transparency in the counting of all votes in a non-partisan manner, as I did in Bush v Gore in 2000.”
Lake and Finchem did not return messages seeking comment for this article.
‘Simply false’ claims: It’s a paper-based voting system, judge claims
Lake and Finchem’s lawsuit was filed because Republican lawmakers failed to pass the kind of significant changes to election procedure they sought during this year’s legislative session. The complaint echoed conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems and vote-tabulating machines put forth by former President Donald Trump and his legal team after he lost the 2020 presidential election to President Joe Biden.
The plaintiffs made specific falsehoods in the lawsuit that Tuchi found punishable.
They claimed that Arizona voters do not vote with paper ballots, but that is “simply false,” Tuchi wrote.
The plaintiffs claim in the pleadings that they never claimed in the lawsuit that the system is not based on paper ballots, but that too is incorrect, Tuchi wrote. He gave specific examples, such as when Lake and Finchem said they were required to cast their votes “via electronic voting systems” and that overall the lawsuit has a “broad implication” that Arizona does not have a “paper ballot auditable”. based voting system
Tuchi noted that the lawsuit attacks the county’s use of “optical scanners and ballot marking devices,” despite the fact that 99.98% of Maricopa County voters marked their ballots themselves.
“A system that uses paper ballots to record votes and electronic machines to tabulate them is still a ‘paper-based voting system,’” Tuchi wrote, referring to the US Election Assistance Commission. Glossary of terms database.
If it were not on paper, he noted, Cyber Ninjas, the contractor used by the state Senate in its partisan audit of the 2020 election last year, would not have been able to examine a portion of the paper ballots.
The false claim created a “straw man” argument that played a central role in the basis of the lawsuit, Tuchi found.
The lawsuit also alleges that the Dominion Voting Systems equipment used by the county was “an inappropriate and absent objective assessment.” That’s also wrong, Tuchi said, because all Arizona election equipment is tested by “independent and neutral experts … and a testing laboratory accredited by the Election Assistance Commission.”
“The plaintiffs and their experts may have a right to opine on the adequacy of the tests that the Arizona machines are subjected to, but they have no right to claim that no such tests are done,” Tuchi wrote.
Other Debunked Claims: Internet Connections, Lack of Independent Testing
Tuchi also reviewed several other allegations in the lawsuit that were troubling but did not meet the legal standard for imposing penalties.
Lake and Finchem’s lawsuit claimed it was “well founded” that Maricopa County’s voting machines were not properly connected to the Internet. But Tuchi said the special teacher appointed by the state Senate, former US Rep. John Shadegg, discovered what the county had been saying: that the machines were not connected to the Internet.
president of the senate Karen Fann said in March that Shadegg’s finding should bring some closure to the question.
Another false accusation in the lawsuit was that the tabulating machines used by the county are not independently tested by experts, the opinion states.
However, those issues, along with the county’s allegation that Lake and Finchem brought the lawsuit “to further their political campaigns” and other claims that were speculative, did not warrant sanctions.
No matter how much “weight is assigned” to Lake and Finchem’s evidence, one major flaw remains in the case: the plaintiffs never showed how their claims are likely to botch the election. They asked many questions about it, but “did not go further,” Tuchi wrote.
Lake and Finchem made false claims about voting procedures and election conspiracies as the main talking points of their campaign. Lake filed a lawsuit against Maricopa County after election results showed she lost to her Democratic opponent, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, and has said she will file another.
Penalties designed to deter ‘unsubstantiated filing’ by other lawyers
Under court rules, sanctions “should be limited” to what is needed to deter similar conduct in the future, the opinion states. And while Lake and Finchem did not act “properly” in the case, it is their attorneys who “signed and filed the offending documents.”
“Sanctioning Plaintiffs’ attorneys here is not to let Plaintiffs off the hook,” Tuchi wrote. “It is to penalize the conduct of a specific attorney with the broader goal of deterring a similarly baseless filing initiated by anyone, whether or not an attorney.”
The order makes the attorneys “jointly and severally liable” for county attorneys’ fees, which means that each person is legally responsible for paying the full amount.
County officials did not have an estimate Thursday of his attorneys’ fees in the case.
The final order of sanctions will not arrive for at least a month. Tuchi gave the county two weeks to submit the full amount of attorneys’ fees incurred since the lawsuit was first filed. The plaintiffs have an additional two weeks after that to file a response on the “reasonableness” of the fee amount.
Contact the reporter at email@example.com or 480-276-3237. Follow him on Twitter @raystern.
This article originally appeared on the Arizona Republic: Judge overturns Lake and Finchem lawsuit over voting machines, orders sanctions