The former head of the Arizona Attorney General’s election integrity unit has retained a lawyer and taken the first step required by state law to initiate a defamation lawsuit after the Arizona Republic published an article earlier this week asserting she “was removed from her position” by new Attorney General Kris Mayes.
According to the Jan. 5 article, Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Wright was told to resign “or be fired” as one of Mayes’ first official acts after being sworn in Jan. 2. The article by reporter Robert Anglen notes the information about Wright’s employment came from Mayes’ office.
That same day, Republic editor Elvia Diaz shared Anglen’s article on Twitter along with a comment that Mayes “fires assistant attorney general who launched dubious Arizona election probe.”
The only problem, Wright says, is she can prove she had already resigned from the AG’s office a few days earlier. Which means she was not a state employee at the time Mayes took office nor when someone in that office told Anglen that Wright was ousted by the new AG.
On Saturday, Arizona Daily Independent confirmed Wright has issued a Notice and Demand for correction pursuant to Arizona Revised Statute 12-653.2. She noted that “every second the tweets and erroneous article is available incurs further damage.”
Such a demand is necessary to allow Wright to pursue certain damages as part of a defamation action.
In a defamation case like this, sources will be revealed to defend the "accuracy" of the article. And even if @krismayes source gets "protection" – that just means that @azcentral loses the case. My evidence will be undeniable. Either way, I win.
— Jen Wright (@JenWEsq) January 7, 2023
Wright has already publicly released a copy of her resignation letter to back up her statement that she resigned effective Dec. 30. She has also shared a message from the human resources department confirming that resignation date.
And Wright has released correspondence with Anglen in which he conceded he did not seek her comment by phone, email, or other private messaging apps like LinkedIn after realizing he was blocked from contacting Wright via Twitter.
It is unclear from the article and Anglen’s subsequent comments to Wright when the unidentified Mayes official made the comments or when Wright was supposedly instructed by Mayes to quit.
However, Anglen has told Wright that a Mayes official “twice confirmed to me that you had been ousted and you had been told to resign or be fired.” The reporter added that his story “fairly reflects” that Wright’s services “were not wanted by the new leadership in the AG’s office.”
Funny, @robertanglen admitted to me via email he never reached out for comment. He claimed he "just" discovered he was blocked (which he reported on in Nov '22). Then he said he didn't think to try Linked In.
Proven liar. pic.twitter.com/drgRpUWyRp
— Jen Wright (@JenWEsq) January 7, 2023
Wright rejects the Republic’s characterization of the article.
“No, the story inaccurately suggests I was fired. I was not,” she responded. “Even if I wasn’t wanted by the new leadership, the feeling was mutual, and I resigned before they had any opportunity to fire me – and before they had any opportunity to give me an ultimatum.”
Wright insists she is prepared to testify under oath that she was never told nor asked by Mayes or anyone representing the new attorney general to resign. Nor, Wright says, did anyone in Brnovich’s administration ever suggest she must quit or be fired.
She has challenged the Republic to demand proof of the statements attributed to Mayes’ office that Wright was “removed” from her position.
“If you are going to continue to say I was ‘removed’ – you need to put a name on the record. Hiding behind an anonymous source suggests your source isn’t even willing to lie on the public record,” Wright wrote. “If they claim they spoke to with me, have them produce the phone records. Without those records, you are willfully spreading misinformation and intentionally defaming me.”
And it is not only the news outlet which Wright is calling out. In another recent tweet, Wright issued a warning to Mayes’ staff about defamation.
Defamation attorneys are being consulted. The source in @krismayes's office that continues to lie that I was given an ultimatum better be prepared to testify in court with receipts (spoiler alert: there aren't any because it didn't happen).
— Jen Wright (@JenWEsq) January 6, 2023
Wright was tasked by then-Attorney General Mark Brnovich in 2019 to head up his new Election Integrity Unit which focused on election integrity-related complaints. While she wanted to remain at the AG’s office if Abe Hamadeh was elected, she understood the visions she and Mayes have for the Elections Integrity Unit “would not align.”
Which is why she never planned to work for Mayes, Wright says.
According to Wright, her direct supervisor knew she intended to resign if Mayes was confirmed as AG-elect upon announcement of the statewide recount results. Those results were to be released Dec. 22, but attorneys for then-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs requested an extension to Dec. 29 due to problems the public now know were found during Pinal County’s recall process.
By then, Wright was already out of the country on a preplanned holiday trip. She did not resign earlier due to the possibility Hamadeh’s election challenge would require Brnovich to remain as AG if a judge could not declare an official victor by Jan. 2.
Once Wright learned Mayes was proclaimed the winner on Dec. 29 she says she took steps -while still out of the country- to resign.
Later, after Wright heard about Anglen’s article, she sent a detailed memo to the reporter and Greg Burton, the executive editor of the Arizona Republic, seeking several corrections.
“As an attorney, my reputation is a significant part of my ability to get clients,” Wright argued. “The longer you keep up this defamatory article, the more damages I am incurring.”