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Lake argues she owes nothing after default in defamation against county recorder

Posted 4/19/24

PHOENIX — Kari Lake is advancing a new legal theory why she doesn’t owe anything to Stephen Richer for the defamatory statements she made about his handling of elections: His 2024 bid for …

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Lake argues she owes nothing after default in defamation against county recorder


PHOENIX — Kari Lake is advancing a new legal theory why she doesn’t owe anything to Stephen Richer for the defamatory statements she made about his handling of elections: His 2024 bid for a new term as Maricopa County recorder is doing just fine financially despite all that.

Attorney Tim La Sota, who is representing Lake in the defamation case against her, cited the county recorder’s claim he already has raised $250,000 in his reelection bid. By contrast, La Sota said, Richer raised less than $310,000 in his entire effort to first get elected in 2020.

What makes that important, he said, is that Richer, in filing the defamation suit, claimed Lake’s comments “cut (him) off from Republican networks and donor who once supported his career and future ambitions in public office.’’

Even if Richer’s standing among Republicans took a hit, La Sota said, it may have nothing to do with anything Lake said or did. Instead, he said, it could just as easily have been his statements criticizing former President Trump.

But that’s just part of the effort by Lake, who agreed to a default judgment that she will not contest Richer’s claim of defamation, to minimize the only remaining issue in the case: How much she owes him in damages.

La Sota, in a letter to Richer’s lawyers, is contesting the recorder’s claim that Lake’s statements — and the public response to them — took a “toll on Richer’s physical and mental health and required him to spend time and money on additional medical treatment and medication.”

“We have severe doubts about the veracity of this allegation,” La Sota said. And since Richer raised the issue, he said the recorder should voluntarily consent to a physical or mental examination.

If he won’t, La Sota said he would seek a court order.

Much of this goes to efforts by Lake, despite defaulting on the lawsuit, to continue to insist that the claim has no merit. Financial damages — if any — aside, La Sota said Richer sued for “improper purposes.”

One, La Sota said, was Richer’s intent to interfere with Lake’s campaign for the U.S. Senate “by using vexatious litigation to drain Kari Lake, the leading Republican candidate, of financial resources.” And the other, he said, is impeding her campaign “by keeping her off the campaign trail and creating a barrage of negative media hit pieces.”

But there’s a small timing problem with that theory.

Richer filed suit on June 22, 2023. And Lake did not announce her intention to run for Senate for nearly another four months.

What this all comes down to is how much money Lake, her political action committee and her campaign committee owe Richer.

In his lawsuit, he alleged Lake made two clearly false statements about the way he ran the 2022 campaign.

One was that he intentionally printed 19-inch images on 20-inch ballots, a situation that resulted in the on-site tabulators at many voting centers being unable to read the votes. The other was that he inserted about 300,000 “bogus” ballots into the 2022 election count.

Lake initially claimed she had a First Amendment right to make such statements. And she sought dismissal under a state law that bars lawsuit “substantially motivated by a desire to deter, retaliate against or prevent the lawful exercise of a constitutional right.”

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jay Alderman, however, concluded there were sufficient allegations Lake acted with “actual malice” in making the statements. Both the state Court of Appeals and Arizona Supreme Court refused Lake’s bid to intercede.

All that eventually led to Lake defaulting last month, saying she wanted to instead focus on her Senate campaign. That essentially was an admission that what Richer alleged is true, leaving only the issue of damages to be litigated.

On the surface, La Sota is saying there really are none based on Richer’s successful fundraising. And, if nothing else, he said the burden is now on Richer to prove how he was harmed.

What that includes, La Sota said, is showing any damage to Richer’s reputation was caused by anything that Lake did or said. And he contends there are plenty of other reasons, beyond anything Lake said, that the recorder suffered what he said in his complaint was a “decline in career prospects.”

Consider, La Sota said, statements Richer has made about Trump, at one point calling the former president “unhinged” for accusing the county of deleting an elections database.

“Whether Richer likes it or not, President Trump is the dominant figure in today’s Republican Party,” he said. “Leveling criticism at your own party’s former president — be it Democrats criticizing Barack Obama or Republicans criticizing Donald Trump — will always alienate the party’s base.”

La Sota also said even if Richer and his family were subject to threats of violence and death — one of the claims in the lawsuit — he’ll have a hard time proving all that is related to Lake.

“Richer must be consumed by either naivety or megalomania (or both) to assume that he’s the one politician in the history of the United States subjected to harsh criticism and even threats of violence,” he said.

And linking that to statements made by Lake?

“Even if Kari Lake beamed her criticisms of Richer via mental telepathy to every citizen of Arizona, no expert witness or quantum of proof can ever satisfy Richer’s obligation to prove that Lake, and only Kari Lake, is the proximate cause of Richer’s alleged harms, because those harms are part and parcel of being an elected official,” La Sota said.

Lake’s attorney did concede there may be one cost Richer incurred that could be quantified: the recorder’s claim that he and his wife spent “thousands of dollars” installing additional security features at the home. But La Sota sniffed at that being a basis for the kind of lawsuit he filed.

“In other words, Richer had to pay some bucks for a home security system — which is what any other family in Arizona would have to spend,” he said. “We assume he saved the receipts.”

Attorney Daniel Maynard who represents Richer said a legal response will be filed to all of this.