Kari Lake says she is looking forward to going to trial against Maricopa County Record Stephen Richer and other Maricopa County officials next month in a lawsuit she filed earlier this year alleging she was improperly denied access to public records.
Judge John Hannah of the Maricopa County Superior Court issued an order last week setting a two-day trial starting Sept. 21 on Lake’s claims that the county defendants violated state law by denying inspection of the 2022 General Election ballot affidavit envelopes.
The second day of the trial will occur Sept. 25, according to Hannah. In the meantime, the parties are awaiting Hannah’s ruling on whether Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes can intervene in the case on behalf of Secretary of State Adrian Fontes.
“Our lawsuit against Maricopa County seeking to review envelope signatures is moving to trial in September. Judge Hannah has declared that the envelopes are not part of the “voter record,” which destroys the county’s motion to dismiss & their entire defense case,” Lake told the Arizona Daily Independent. “This is a huge victory for election transparency. We’re moving forward.
The public records case is not the only legal action involving Lake and Richer that is being closely watched.
Richer sued Lake for defamation in June, alleging she as well as her gubernatorial campaign and a political action committee made inaccurate comments about his involvement in the 2022 General Election, resulting in “threats of violence, and even death” that have turned the lives of Richer and his family “upside down.”
Last week Lake filed two motions to dismiss the defamation case. Richer’s legal team has now asked a Maricopa County judge to extend the deadline for Richer’s response to those motions to Oct. 9.
Judge Jay Adelman is expected to approve the extension given that Lake’s attorneys did not oppose the later deadline. Adelman will rule on the motions for dismissal once Lake has time to reply to Richer’s response.
One of the motions to dismiss filed on behalf of Lake has created some controversy for Arizona State University (ASU) due to Lake’s frequently politically charged criticism of Richer’s actions related to the election.
Lake’s legal team contends Richer, who sued as an individual and not an election official, is trying to use the courts and the cost of litigation to penalize Lake for non-criminal speech that is protected under the First Amendment.
Last week, students participating in the First Amendment Clinic at the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law filed a motion that argues for dismissal of Richer’ lawsuit. The motion contends Richer undertook the legal action as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or what is commonly known as a SLAPP.
“This case presents an important opportunity for the Court to carry out the core purpose of Arizona’s recently amended Anti-SLAPP statute to prevent public officials from using private litigation as a means to punish and prevent speech on political issues that should be considered as part of the open public discourse guaranteed by the United States and Arizona Constitutions,” the Aug. 21 motion argues.
This is fantastic. The ASU law students who helped work on @KariLake's anti-SLAPP motion are doing cutting edge legal work in defense of free speech. Arizona's anti-SLAPP statute is rare in that it provides for an evidentiary hearing (like a mini trial)–I did one last month. https://t.co/BynCY5tdbl
— Jesse Franklin-Murdock (@MurdockJDF) August 22, 2023
But the reaction from typically ardent supporters of the First Amendment toward the students’ involvement was surprisingly anti-free speech, according to some observers. There were even calls from a long line of Democrats to defund the law clinic for suggesting Arizona’s Anti-SLAPP law should have its day in court.
Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts went so far as to accuse ASU of supporting Lake’s “election fraud hustle.” She also called the First Amendment Clinic’s involvement in defending the First Amendment “surprising – stunning, really.”
However, the students’ Anti-Slapp motion argues the legal issue at hand is not political ideology but rather protected free speech.
In response to criticism about the Clinic’s involvement in Lake’s case, Executive Director Gregg Leslie insists his students are not defending Lake’s politics, only her right under Arizona law to not be sued for political statements.
“We’re not here to argue the merits of her claims or his defense,” Leslie said. “We’re just saying that under this law that protects First Amendment interests, we’d like to see this suit get quashed.”
Kari has a right to free speech.
Richer's inability to accept criticism doesn't supersede the Constitution. https://t.co/a0Md8kNAaw
— Kari Lake War Room (@KariLakeWarRoom) August 22, 2023
A second motion to dismiss was filed by Lake on Aug. 22. It argues several other deficiencies in Richer’s defamation complaint that Lake’s attorneys contend require tossing the lawsuit out of court.
If Adelman allows Richer’s lawsuit to move ahead, then Lake’s legal team will have a few weeks to file a formal answer to the claims made by the county recorder. It is also possible the judge will rule some of Richer’s litany of examples do not warrant moving forward, while others do.