By Jack Phillips
A top election official in Maricopa County, Arizona, filed a defamation lawsuit Thursday against GOP candidate Kari Lake, who responded by accusing him of trying to censor her.
Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer claimed he’s faced “violent vitriol and other dire consequences” because of allegations made by Lake about the 2022 midterm elections. Following the election, Lake has filed several lawsuits with various Arizona state courts to claim that irregularities and errors that occurred during the midterms should make her the winner.
“Rather than accept political defeat, rather than get a new job, she has sought to undermine confidence in our elections and has mobilized millions of her followers against me,” Richer wrote in an op-ed published in The Arizona Republic.
After several lawsuits were struck down, Lake has asserted that Richer and other Maricopa County officials interfered in the election to prevent her from winning the gubernatorial race against Democrat Katie Hobbs, who was sworn in as governor in January. Meanwhile, Lake is openly considering a run for U.S. Senate and reportedly being considered as a leading contender to be Trump’s running mate in his 2024 presidential campaign.
Richer’s lawsuit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, names Lake, her campaign, and her political fundraising group as defendants. In addition to unspecified monetary damages, Richer is seeking a court order declaring Lake’s statements false and requiring her to delete them from social media.
His lawsuit takes issue with two of Lake’s allegations, including one that says Richer intentionally had 19-inch ballot images printed on 20-inch paper, causing counting problems during Election Day. The other claim that he flagged in the lawsuit is that he injected 300,000 fake ballots into the counting process.
In the suit, it included screenshots and links to videos and social media posts in which Lake make her assertions.
“Lake Campaign’s false and defamatory statements accused Richer, of among other things, intentionally sabotaging the 2022 election by intentionally having ballot-on-demand printers print the wrong sized ballots,” he wrote in the suit, adding that her statements also “damaged Richer.”
His lawyers argue that Lake has the right to criticize him under the First Amendment but said that she made false statements that could be proven to be defamatory. “She has gone far outside of the bounds of protected free speech as guaranteed under the First Amendment and the Arizona Constitution,” Richer claimed in The Republic opinion article.
In response, Lake, who has previously vowed to take her election challenges to the U.S. Supreme Court if need be, wrote on her Twitter page that Richer’s lawsuit is an attempt to censor her.
“I’m exposing the massive corruption in our elections and this … is suing me,” Lake wrote on Twitter Thursday. “He wants to silence US … corrupt elections have saddled us with disasters like Joe Biden and Hobbs.”
Officials who allegedly “orchestrated the wide-spread fraud want us to shut-up and accept it,” she wrote, adding a link to a donation webste. “We won’t. Our country is GONE unless we tackle this problem. They want to stop President Trump. They want to stop me. They want to stop you. Not. Going. To. Happen.”
One of Lake’s legal arguments is that thousands of Republican voters were disenfranchised during Election Day on Nov. 8, asserting that vote-tabulation machine errors occurred in dozens of polling locations in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous. She also noted there were alleged problems with the county’s signature-verification process for mail-in ballots.
Last month, Lake’s lawsuit against Maricopa, Richer, and other state election officials was rejected by the Arizona Supreme Court, which ruled that the GOP candidate didn’t show enough evidence of widespread voter fraud. Also in May, a Maricopa County judge, Peter Thompson, issued a ruling that denied sanctions against Lake and her attorneys after Maricopa County officials requested them.
“Even if her argument did not prevail, Lake, through her witness, presented facts consistent with and in support of her legal argument,” Thompson wrote at the time. “The remainder of Defendants’ allegations appear to rely on the Court’s inherent power as the authority by which they request the Court ‘award’ unspecified sanctions ‘against’ Lake’s counsel,” he also said.
The judge said he “acknowledges its inherent authority to sanction bad faith attorney conduct and that the rules of attorney conduct in the Rules of the Supreme Court provide a legal basis for imposing sanctions against attorneys,” according to the ruling However, he stipulated that “opposing litigants in a heated dispute will naturally view the same evidence differently.”
Ultimately, Thompson denied the request for sanctions and the petition for reimbursement on May 26, coming days after County Attorney Rachel Mitchell filed a motion for sanctions last week. It came about a day after Thompson ruled that Lake did not prove her claim that county officials didn’t verify tens of thousands of signatures on mail-in ballots.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.