Arizona judges hold hearings amid legal challenges over 2022 election: Latest updates

In the aftermath of an election that saw the defeat of various Republican Party candidates in Arizona, lawsuits have been filed in connection with how the election was allegedly run.

Amongst the candidates for statewide office, GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, GOP Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem and GOP Attorney General candidate Abe Hamadeh have filed lawsuits over the election.

Kari Lake

Between a kid's show and lunch orders, the first hearing in Lake's election lawsuit happened on Dec. 13.

The public got access to an internal link just for attorneys, and the virtual courtroom filled up with open mics.

"You are my best friend. I love you a lot," one person was heard saying.

The link was reportedly sent out publicly, with at least one politician -- State Sen. Wendy Rogers -- sharing the link out.

The hearing eventually started 45 minutes late.

Motion to dismiss lawsuit filed

On Dec. 15, Governor-elect Katie Hobbs asked a judge to dismiss Lake's lawsuit.

In a 19-page motion, Governor-elect Hobbs' lawyers say the judge should not indulge Lake a minute longer than it takes to dismiss her lawsuit, and said Lake's suit points to no evidnece of Election Day fraud, and fails to point out any actual misconduct.

On Dec. 19, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge heard arguments on whether or not to toss out Lake's election lawsuit. During the hearing, Lake's attorney claims Election Day was filled with chaos and mayhem, from printer errors to claims of fraud with signature verification and chain of custody.

"It should proceed to trial. The people should get to see," said Kurt Olden, who was representing Lake in court. "This is about restoring trust in our election system. The kind of debacle that happened on November 8 should never happen. There are processes in place to make sure it doesn’t, and the defendants did not follow those processes. That’s the point, Your Honor."

Hobbs' attorney, meanwhile, argues that Lake has no evidence to back up the claims.

"In the end, Your Honor, if there is anything rotten in Arizona, it is what this contest represents," said Abha Khanna. "For the past several years our, democracy and its basic guiding principles have been under sustained assault from candidates who just cannot or will not accept the fact that they lost."

Most of Lake's election lawsuit dismissed

On the night of Dec. 19, judge Peter Thompson issued his ruling on the motion to dismiss, and decided to dismiss most, but not all of the counts mentioned in Lake's lawsuits.

Specifically, court documents state that of the 10 counts listed in Lake's lawsuit, counts two and four were not dismissed.

Count two deals with allegations of ballot printer malfunctions. Specifically, the count alleges that ballot-on-demand printers that malfunctions on election day were not certified, and "have vulnerabilities that render them susceptible to hacking." Separately, the count alleges that the printers malfunctioned because of an "intentional action."

Judge Thompson's ruling states that while the first allegation is not enough to state a claim, Lake is still entitled to try and prove her claims that the ballot printers were interfered with.

"Plaintiff must show at trial that the BOD [ballot-on-demand] printer malfunctions were intentional, and directed to affect the results of the election, and that such actions did actually affect the outcome," read a portion of Judge Thompson's ruling with regard to count two.

Count four, meanwhile, deals with ballot chain of custody. Specifically, the count alleges that there are violations of the County Election Manual pertaining to a chain of custody for ballots. 

"As presented, whether the county complied with its own manual and applicable statutes is a dispute of fact rather than one of law. This is true as to whether such lack of compliance was both intentional and did in fact result in a changed outcome. Consequently, Plaintiff has stated a claim," read a portion of Judge Thompson's ruling with regard to count four.

Judge issues ruling on Lake's public records lawsuit

On Dec. 15, Judge Peter Thompson issued a ruling on a public records lawsuit filed by Lake over election records.

In the lawsuit, Lake had demanded Maricopa County hand over a variety of documents related to the election. In the ruling, Judge Thompson ruled that Lake should be given the opportunity to inspect:

  1. 50 randomly selected "ballot-on-demand" printed ballots that were cast on Election Day from six Maricopa County vote centers chosen by Lake's representative
  2. 50 randomly selected early ballots cast in the 2022 general election from six Maricopa County vote centers chosen by Lake's representative
  3. 50 randomly selected "ballot-on-demand" printed ballots that were marked as spoiled on Election Day from six Maricopa County vote centers chosen by Lake's representative

In a ruling on Dec. 16, Judge Thompson denied Lake's request, filed via a "motion to clarify," to allow her representatives to copy and photograph ballots. The same order, however, also grants Lake's request for Maricopa County to make available for inclusion tabulator-rejected "ballot-on-demand" left by voters at the vote center to be counted later.

On Dec. 19, Judge Thompson ruled that a ballot inspection is to take place at 8:00 a.m. on Dec. 20.

Mark Finchem

On Dec. 16, a Maricopa County judge granted a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Finchem over the November election that saw his defeat by Democrat Adrian Fontes.

According to court documents released by the Clerk of the Superior Court Jessica Fotinos, Judge Melissa Julian has granted Secretary of State Katie Hobbs' motion to dismiss the election contest, with prejudice, and confirmed the election of Fontes as Secretary of State-elect.

As a result of the ruling by Judge Julian, a virtual status conference on the case that was set for Dec. 19 was declared moot, and lawyers for Hobbs and Fontes may file a motion for sanctions within 10 days of the ruling.

According to Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute, when a judge dismisses a lawsuit with prejudice, it means the plaintiff cannot refile the same claim again in that court, because it is considered an "adjudication on the merits."

"An adjudication on the merits means that the court has made a determination on the legal and factual issues of the claim. Once a plaintiff’s claim is adjudicated on the merits, they cannot bring the same claim again," read a portion of the website.

Judge rebuffs various claims by Finchem

In the 13-page ruling, Judge Julian rebuffed various claims made by Finchem in the lawsuit, including a claim that the current Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs, abused her power by failing to have tabulation machines properly certified, failing to recuse herself, and for threatening the Boards of Supervisors in Mohave and Cochise Counties with criminal charges if they did not certify the election on time.

"We are entitled to have a hearing on charges of fraud or deception, and we believe that there is deception in the practice in the state of not dealing fairly and not coming forward to the different counties that protested the election and saying to them," said the attorney for Finchem, Daniel McCauley, during oral arguments held on Dec. 16. "Maybe you have a point. Give us your evidence we will consider it. I mean, that’s the way the Secretary of State should be handling it. She deceived them. She said no, this is a great election, everything is fine."

Judge Julian wrote, in her ruling, that under state law, recusal is only required if a public officer or employee has a "nonspeculative pecuniary [money] or proprietary [ownership] interest, either direct or indirect, other than a remote interest."

"Seeking or holding a public office does not grant elected officials a financial or ownership interest in the job they hold or seek. To the contrary, ‘the nature of the relation of a public officer to the public is inconsistent with either a property or a contract right. Every public office is created in the interest and for the benefit of the people, and belongs to them,’" Judge Julian wrote.

As for claims that legal threats made by Hobbs' office over election certification constituted misconduct, Judge Julian ruled that "it is not ‘misconduct’ for the Secretary of State to communicate with other governing bodies to ensure the canvass and certification are completed."

On the issue of voting machine certification, Judge Julian wrote that Finchem was barred by laches, a legal doctrine that bars legal action due to excessively long delay, from raising the issue, as he alleges the machine's certification expired in 2017, and that a purportedly defective certificate was issued on Feb. 1, 2021.

"Mr. Finchem could have brought a challenge regarding the laboratory testing of voting machines anytime in the last five years (or minimally at any time since February 2021), Mr. Finchem’s unjustifiable delay resulted in an election being conducted under conditions he belatedly finds objectionable," read a portion of the ruling.

Judge Julian also commented on other aspects of Finchem's claims, in regards to voting machine certification.

Abe Hamadeh

On Dec. 19 in Mohave County, a Superior Court judge heard arguments to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Hamadeh.

The case mirrors Lake's lawsuit, highlighting printer errors which they claimcould impact the election outcome.

There was also a motion to inspect ballots.

"With over 2.5 million votes cast, we have to remember that even very small mistakes can make the difference in a case such as this," said attorney Tim La Sota, who was representing Hamadeh.

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