PHOENIX — The top Republicans in the House and Senate are asking a judge to save failed GOP attorney general candidate Abe Hamadeh from having to pay the legal fees of others he sued in his unsuccessful lawsuit to be declared the winner.
And Arizona taxpayers are picking up the cost, though no one from the House or Senate could say Thursday how much the final tab will be.
In a “friend of the court” brief, Senate President Warren Petersen of Queen Creek, and House Speaker Ben Toma of Peoria say they are not taking sides on the question of whether Hamadeh or his Democrat foe Kris Mayes got more votes.
The official tally after a recount showed Mayes winning by 280 votes and she was sworn in earlier this month.
But Tom Basile, representing Petersen and Toma, said there is no evidence that Hamadeh acted in bad faith in filing his lawsuit, nor in his request for a new trial after Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen ruled against his bid to overturn the results.
Mayes’ attorneys, in their own legal filing with Jantzen, said the challenge to the election results never should have been brought, saying it was `based on nothing more than speculative information and belief.”
“But despite their unwarranted fishing expedition, they failed to find any support to establish their unfounded claims,” they said in their bid for fees and a $5,000 fine states.
Basile, however, is telling Jantzen it would be wrong for him to now award Mayes — and the Secretary of State’s Office, which also was named as a defendant — their legal fees plus that penalty.
“In context, the defendants’ sanctions demands evince a noxious admixture of political vengeance and — in the case of the Secretary of State — abuse of power,” Basile wrote. He said both were already threatening to seek legal fees even before there was a trial.
Basile also said the Legislature purposely established procedures for transparency, fact-finding and independent judicial inquiry “whenever there are credible questions surrounding the accuracy of certified election results.”
Only thing is, he said, these don’t happen on their own. Instead, Basile said, it is up to individual voters to start the process.
“Citizens should not be threatened by their own government officials with punitive penalties for raising measured and modest questions in the closest election for statewide office in Arizona history,” he wrote. Basile said the “abusive legislative tactic” of seeking sanctions undermines the legislative objective of judicial review “and risks rendering the election contest statutes a dead letter.”
And he took a particular shot at not just the Secretary of State’s Office but also “certain county officials” for how they have handled the matter.
Basile did not name names. But Republicans who have lost their races have lashed out at Maricopa County supervisors and County Recorder Stephen Richer contending there were irregularities in the voting process that disenfranchised some individuals.
“It is understandable that governmental parties would zealously defend their actions and practices in the 2022 election,” Basile wrote.
“But the churlish imperiousness with which the secretary and certain county officials greet even narrowly tailored questions regarding the extent and repercussions of undeniable mistakes suggests they have forgotten that they serve all electors — including Mr. Hamadeh and his supporters,” he continued, saying they are answerable to all who contest the election and other voters, “not the other way around.”
The bottom line, Basile said, is it would be “unjust” to force Hamadeh and supporters who joined his lawsuit “solely for raising and pursuing questions of enduring public importance to the voters of this state and the integrity of its elections.”
Jantzen dismissed Hamadeh’s first challenge to the result, saying he didn’t prove his case. Now Hamadeh is seeking a new trial based on arguments that there is new evidence and, given that, he should be allowed to hand inspect all ballots and not just the 23,000 he was allowed to access to determine if Mayes really outpolled him.
But Mayes' lawyers say that Hamadeh, in that bid for a new trial, failed to provide new evidence that was not available at the time of the first one and did not identify any irregularity in how that hearing was conducted.