PHOENIX — A federal judge ordered the lawyers for two failed GOP candidates to pay Maricopa County’s legal fees because they filed a “frivolous” lawsuit that furthered “false narratives” about elections.
In an extensive order, U.S. District Court Judge John Tuchi said there were a series of factual and legal problems in the lawsuit filed earlier this year against the county, which sought to require ballots in this year’s elections be counted by hand.
Tuchi previously threw out the lawsuit itself, filed by Republicans Kari Lake, who was defeated for governor in November, and Mark Finchem, who lost the race for secretary of state. Their claims that machine counting can produce inaccurate results were little more than speculation, backed only by “vague’’ allegations about electronic voting systems generally, Tuchi said.
People are also reading…
In the new order, the judge said even those claims were based on false allegations and representations that should have kept their lawyers from filing the lawsuit in the first place. Financial penalties are appropriate in “frivolous’’ cases like this, Tuchi said, one in which he said Lake and Finchem, with their attorneys, “baselessly kicked up a cloud of dust.’’
He said the state has taken steps to put in place procedures to ensure elections are secure and reliable.
“It is to make clear that the court will not condone litigants ... furthering false narratives that baselessly undermine public trust at a time of increasing disinformation about, and distrust in, the democratic process,’’ Tuchi wrote. He said the sanctions “send a message to those who might file similarly baseless suits in the future.’’
Tuchi said the lawsuit was factually wrong on several fronts, starting with the claim Arizonans do not now vote by hand on paper ballots.
In fact, he noted, the current system with virtually every vote — with some exceptions for those with disabilities — is done on paper. That creates a verifiable paper trail and allows voters to review it to determine tabulation machines correctly recorded their choices, Tuchi said.
“Allegations to the contrary are simply false,’’ the judge wrote.
Tuchi also found fault with the claims a hand count done in Maricopa County as part of a Senate “audit’’ after the 2020 election proves it is “superior’’ and that it isn’t necessary to use machines.
It took roughly 2,000 people more than two and a half months to hand count just the presidential and Senate races in that one county, he said.
More problematic, Tuchi said, is that Lake and Finchem “cherry picked’’ the findings of that audit conducted by the Cyber Ninjas firm.
“They conspicuously failed to mention that the Cyber Ninjas report states that ‘there were no substantial differences between the hand count of the ballots provided and the official election canvass results,’ ‘’ the judge noted. In fact, Tuchi said even Cyber Ninjas called that an “important finding because the paper ballots are the best evidence of voter intent and there is no reliable evidence that the paper ballots were altered to any material degree.’’
The judge also found that Lake and Finchem never offered sufficient allegations, let alone any real evidence, to demonstrate a likelihood the votes of Arizonans would be incorrectly counted in the 2022 midterm election due to manipulation.
The attorneys failed to conduct the kind of inquiry that court rules require before filing a lawsuit and forcing those they sue to have to defend themselves in court, he said.
“Any objectively reasonable investigation of this case would have led to publicly available and widely circulated information contradicting plaintiffs’ allegations and undercutting their claims,’’ Tuchi wrote.
“Thus, plaintiffs either failed to conduct the reasonable factual and legal inquiry required (under court rules), or they conducted such an inquiry and filed this lawsuit anyway. Either way, no reasonable attorney, after conducting an objectively reasonable inquiry into the facts and law, would have found the complaint to be well-founded.’’
He also pointed to the timing.
Tuchi said rhe pair waited for seven weeks after filing the lawsuit to seek an injunction against the use of the tabulation machines this year despite clear legal precedent that courts cannot make such radical changes so close to an election.
There was no immediate response from Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, who was the lead counsel in the case, nor from any of the lawyers who brought the lawsuit and will be forced to pay the fees once the judge reviews the county’s request and determines what payment is reasonable.