Maricopa County seeks sanctions against Lake, Finchem and attorneys for what they call 'frivolous' suit

Sasha Hupka
Arizona Republic

Maricopa County supervisors say Kari Lake and Mark Finchem should pay up for attorney fees in an ongoing lawsuit that aims to ban ballot-counting machines.

A motion filed by the county Wednesday also demands sanctions against Lake, Finchem and their lawyers, calling the suit "frivolous."

Lake and Finchem, both Republicans, are seeking election as governor and secretary of state, respectively. The legal battle began in April when they asked a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction to block Maricopa and Pima counties from using any electronic device to cast or tabulate votes.

Their challenge asks the judge to order counties to require paper ballots — already the practice in Arizona for years, except for visually impaired voters, who can use an electronic machine —  as well as a hand count of all cast ballots.

The move came as bills at the Republican-controlled state Legislature attempting similar actions failed. State Senate Republicans had commissioned a review of Maricopa County ballots in the 2020 presidential and senate election. The final report attempted to raise questions about the election but found no problems with vote counting equipment or the outcome that Joe Biden won the presidential vote.

Finchem tweeted Wednesday that the "threatened action" by the supervisors "is nothing more than the attempted weaponization of the judicial process against the political process."

State Rep. Mark Finchem (right) is interviewed during an election night party for Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake in Scottsdale on Aug. 2, 2022. Finchem is leading in his race for Arizona secretary of state.

"If they can’t stand up to scrutiny for elections, that’s their problem — not our problem," he wrote.

The Board of Supervisors have held a unified and outspoken stance on election integrity in the wake of the 2020 presidential race. Supervisors issued a point-by-point rebuttal in January to the questions raised by the Senate Republican review. In May, they publicly spoke against Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich's allegations of "serious vulnerabilities" in how they ran the 2020 election.

“We have scrutinized this all the way to Italian satellites to burned ballots in chicken barns to Sharpies with magnetic readings to flip phones," Supervisor Clint Hickman told The Republic in May, referring to various conspiracy theories that swirled in the aftermath of the 2020 eleciton. "I mean, everything under the sun. The goalposts moved and moved and moved."

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors member Thomas Galvin (left), Chairman Bill Gates (center) and Vice Chairman Clint Hickman listen to responses from county election officials to claims about the 2020 general election made by Senate Republican contractors Cyber Ninjas, Cyfir and EchoMail.

Four of the five board members are Republicans, and Supervisor Tom Galvin was reelected to his seat last week in conservative-leaning District 2. He faced three opponents, all of whom questioned or denied the results of the 2020 election, and his race was widely seen as foreshadowing what his colleagues could face when they seek to hold onto their positions in 2024.

"I think it really does show that you can speak the truth about the 2020 election in a Republican primary and be successful," Board Chairman Bill Gates said after Galvin's election.

Motion accuses Lake, Finchem lawyers of acting 'in bad faith'

Emily Craiger of Burgess Law Group, who is representing the Board of Supervisors in the case, said the lawsuit included "clearly untrue" statements and that the opposing attorneys failed their ethical obligations.

Her motion says Lake and Finchem's suit was "in bad faith." 

"This motion is about holding lawyers accountable," she said.

The initial complaint in the Lake-Finchem suit argued that "untested and unverified" voting machines undermine trust in the electoral process, even though Arizona counties are required by law to perform pre- and post-election logic and accuracy tests on their tabulators and accessible voting devices.

Maricopa County also conducts a hand count audit after each election, which is done by bipartisan boards appointed by political parties. They examine a random sampling of both mail-in and Election Day ballots. 

Wednesday's motion included information from both Lake's and Finchem's voter files. Craiger said the records show that they "voted on paper for 20 years."

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But Andrew Parker of Parker Daniels Kibort, one of the attorneys representing Lake and Finchem, pushed back on the idea that the lawsuit made false allegations and said the complaint filed in the suit gave evidence of his clients' claims.

"The suit was not filed in bad faith at all," Parker said.

He declined to give further comment.

Behind-the-scenes discussions

The county asked Lake's and Finchem's attorneys to voluntarily dismiss the case on the basis of factual inaccuracies before filing for penalties, according to the motion.

The parties in the case conferred twice, on May 31 and June 6. After the first meeting, Lake's and Finchem's lawyers said they needed time to consider the issues raised by the county.

While convening again weeks later, Lake, Finchem and their representatives said they "disagreed" with the county's position on the facts and refused to amend their complaint or dismiss the case, according to the recent motion.

"They should not be surprised that this filing occurred yesterday," Craiger said. "They have been on notice for a month."

More legal sparring likely to come

Parker said he and his clients intend to respond to the motion.

Once he does, Craiger and the board will have the opportunity to issue a reply. Craiger said her team did not request oral argument on the motion, but that the court may still opt to have a hearing on the matter.

Per Craiger, the motion isn't directly linked to a dismissal of the lawsuit. She said "going into court and making false allegations is sanctionable regardless of the outcome of the case."

Reach reporter Sasha Hupka at sasha.hupka@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SashaHupka.