Calling its lawsuit challenging 2020 election procedures “groundless” and “disingenuous,” a judge has ordered the Arizona Republican Party — and its lawyers — to pay the state thousands of dollars in legal fees.
In his ruling, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah contended the GOP’s team acted in “bad faith” when it questioned the process for auditing voting machines and tried to delay certification of election results last November.
Instead of living up to the “privileged position in the electoral process” afforded to it by state law, Hannah said, the party sought to undermine Arizonans’ confidence in election results.
“The public has a right to expect the Arizona Republican Party to conduct itself respectfully,” he wrote. “It has failed to do so in this case.”
The party and its attorneys must pay the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office $18,238, according to the order. That’s just a fraction of the nearly $152,000 the agency said it spent defending itself against a barrage of election fraud lawsuits challenging President Joe Biden’s Arizona win.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said the “damage inflicted upon our democracy by frivolous lawsuits and conspiracy theories can’t be measured in dollars.” But she called the order “good news for taxpayers” and said it sent an important message to “those willing to abuse the legal process for political purposes.”
Arizona GOP attorney Jack Wilenchik, on the other hand, said directives like Hannah’s only serve to “stop plaintiffs from rightfully invoking the courts to hear their issues.” He said the order “encourages public distrust in the government for being openly hostile to them.”
“We will be appealing this ruling, and it will be reversed,” Wilenchik said.
Party challenged county audit process
The GOP’s lawsuit against Maricopa County centered on how election officials audited the accuracy of electronic vote tallies. Instead of sampling assigned precincts to conduct their hand count, officials sampled vote centers that were open to any voter in the county — a strategy the GOP contended was both unlawful and imprecise.
“The idea, as best the Court could figure it out, was that that precinct-by-precinct hand counts would reveal precincts where the number of votes exceeded the number of registered voters,” Hannah wrote.
“These were flimsy excuses for a lawsuit. The hand count is not meant to create data points for political parties to ‘cross-check with other voter registration data.’ The purpose of the hand count audit is to compare the results of the machine count to the hand count to assure that the machines are working properly and accurately counting votes.”
Maricopa County’s hand count, which had bipartisan oversight, matched electronic counts exactly. But the Republican party insisted state law explicitly required the county to use the precinct-based method, rather than the center-based method outlined in the secretary of state’s Election Procedures Manual — despite the law deferring to that manual to outline voting center rules.
Hannah also noted the party did not name Hobbs as a defendant in the lawsuit, even though county officials were implementing her office’s rules. She later intervened in the case herself to address claims involving her office.
Nor did the GOP name any of the less populous counties that also used and audited voting centers in the 2020 election.
“That the plaintiff did not proceed that way suggest(s) that its concern was something other than ‘strict compliance’ and ‘election integrity,'” Hannah wrote.
Judge: Case was politically motivated
Hannah also questioned the GOP’s motives for requesting an injunction as the lawsuit progressed.
Wilenchik had asked to delay the county’s certification of election results until a new hand count could be done, saying there would be “zero real hardship” to election officials if the canvass was pushed back.
“If an injunction is not granted, then there will be lingering questions about the legitimacy of these results which could otherwise be answered through a proper hand count,” Wilenchik wrote at the time. “It will create a cloud over the legitimacy of this election and its results.”
Hannah said it was the GOP’s lawsuit, not the hand count procedure, that “cast false shadows on the election’s legitimacy,” however. He noted that Wilenchik, in responding to the secretary of state’s request for legal fees, had acknowledged public doubts about election results had played a role in the lawsuit.
“‘Public mistrust’ is a political issue, not a legal or factual basis for litigation,” Hannah wrote.
In a statement provided to The Arizona Republic on Monday, Wilenchik disagreed, arguing that a lawsuit to “enforce the plain wording of the law is never ‘groundless.'”
“For a county judge to say that widespread public mistrust in an election is an ‘improper’ reason for a political party to be in his court is sorely disrespectful to the views of the many Americans whom I am proud to represent,” he said.
The order sanctions Lee Miller, a lawyer who testified in favor of the injunction, in addition to the Arizona Republican Party and Wilenchik’s firm. Miller and Wilenchik also are named in a separate complaint related to election lawsuits pending in front of the state bar association.
Republic reporter Andrew Oxford contributed to this article.
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Source: USA Today – Breaking News