Kari Lake declines to defend defamation lawsuit filed by Arizona election official

PHOENIX (AP) — Kari Lake, a Republican Senate candidate in Arizona who says she lost a 2022 race for governor because of fraud, is declining to defend against a defamation lawsuit filed by a top election official.

Lake this week asked a judge to jump directly to the damages phase of the lawsuit filed by Republican Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer. The extraordinarily rare request for a default judgment seeks to bypass the opportunity to argue her statements weren’t defamatory, skipping ahead to determine how much she owes Richer.

The court had already rejected her motion to dismiss the case, and the Arizona Supreme Court declined to take her appeal.

“After months of doubling down and defending their lies across Arizona, in the media, and on social media, when push came to shove, the defendants decided to completely back down and concede that their lies were just that: lies,” Richer said in a statement.

While declining to defend her statements in court, Lake maintains she was truthful and says she wants to avoid spending time and money on a protracted legal process. She questioned whether Richer can prove that he was harmed by her statements and demanded he release his medical and psychological records.

“By participating in this lawsuit, it would only serve to legitimize this perversion of our legal system and allow bad actors to interfere in our upcoming election,” Lake said in a video posted to social media. “So I won’t be taking part.”

Lawyers for Richer last week asked the court to sanction Lake and the other defendants, arguing they were trying to waste time and delay discovery, the phase of a lawsuit where the parties turn over documents, text messages, emails and other relevant records.

There has been considerable speculation in Arizona and in Washington about whether discovery in the defamation case would unearth damaging or embarrassing communications that could affect Lake’s Senate campaign. Lake and her aides have secretly recorded conversations, including one where the former state GOP leader offered her a job if she’d stay out of the Senate race.

Richer told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he will still demand records from Lake to prove damages.

Lake is a former Phoenix television news anchor who quickly built an enthusiastic political following as a loyal supporter of former President Donald Trump and his lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. She went on to narrowly lose her own race for Arizona governor last year along with a lawsuit challenging the results.

She is the second prominent Trump ally to give up the chance to defend against a defamation lawsuit after Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was found liable for defaming two Georgia election workers. A judge found Giuliani ignored his duty as a defendant to turn over information requested by the workers. A jury ultimately awarded the women $148 million.

Richer’s lawsuit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, names Lake, her husband, her campaign and her political fundraising group as defendants. In addition to unspecified monetary damages, Richer is seeking a court order declaring Lake’s statements false and requiring her to delete them from social media.

Supreme Court precedent sets a high bar for defamation cases brought by public officials like Richer. He would have been required to prove not just that Lake’s statements were untrue but that she made them with “actual malice;” that is, knowing they were false or with reckless disregard for whether they were true or false.

The suit takes issue with two claims in particular — that Richer intentionally had 19-inch ballot images printed on 20-inch paper, causing counting problems, and that he injected 300,000 bogus ballots. It details nearly three dozen times she made the claims publicly on social media or at rallies and news conferences.

The suit says Richer has faced death threats, including one that was prosecuted by the Justice Department, and has spent thousands of dollars on home security. He said he and his wife have altered their routines and law enforcement has stepped up patrols around their home and workplaces.

AP Politics

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed AP

Trending on NewsNation