PHOENIX — The Arizona Republican Party is telling a judge he’s treading on First Amendment rights if he imposes sanctions on the party for bringing what he called a “meritless” lawsuit over the Nov. 3 election.
“Public mistrust following this election motivated this lawsuit, and there is absolutely nothing improper or harassing about that,” the attorney for the party, Jack Wilenchik, told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah.
He said forcing those who bring such actions to pay the other side’s legal fees, even if the cases are ultimately thrown out of court, effectively silences those who exercise their constitutional rights to challenge results.
And Wilenchik contended the fact it is being considered shows “a degree of bias” by Hannah and that the judge is ignoring the feelings of those voters who question the legitimacy of the general election results.
Hannah has not said when he will rule on the issue.
The dispute is what’s left of a bid by the state GOP to force a different method of conducting the legally required random hand count of ballots. In that procedure, officials from both parties select a batch of ballots to determine if the machine-tallied results match what humans found.
In all cases in Maricopa County in the general election, the match was 100%.
But Wilenchik said the law requires the audits to be conducted at 2% of voting precincts. However, Maricopa County uses voting centers, so the audit was conducted at 2% of those.
Hannah ruled that when legislators allowed counties to establish vote centers, they gave the secretary of state the power, through the official Election Procedures Manual, to allow audits in that method.
Hannah did more than dismiss the case.
He called it “meritless” and invited the private attorney hired by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs to defend against the suit to seek to have her legal fees paid.
Hannah said that will require him to decide “whether the Republican Party and its attorneys brought the case in bad faith to delay certification of the election or to cast false shadows on the election’s legitimacy.”
Hobbs’ attorney Roopali Desai did just that, seeking $18,238. Now Wilenchik is telling the judge to reject that bid.
“Plaintiff’s action was based on a thoughtful, well-reasoned, and well-supported position on the law,” he wrote. He said there is no evidence the party brought the case in bad faith.
“The court has apparently concluded, even though it was not an issue to be litigated in this suit, that it would be ‘false’ — and even constitute harassment — to doubt the legitimacy of this election,” Wilenchik wrote. “This puts the court at odds with around a third of the general population, and around half of the Republican Party in this state,” he continued, citing various polls.
“The court is troublingly close to engaging in very serious interference with the First Amendment right to petition government for a redress of grievances, by equating a widely held political belief with mere ‘harassment,’ and threatening to impose sanctions and oppress that belief,” Wilenchik also wrote.
He said that would be like sanctioning someone who “cast false shadows on the legitimacy of gun rights.”