By JACQUES BILLEAUD
PHOENIX (AP) — A judge has ordered Kari Lake, the Republican who lost the Arizona governor’s race, to pay $33,000 in fees for witnesses who helped defend election officials against Lake’s failed challenge of her defeat to Democrat Katie Hobbs, but rejected a request for hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for the attorneys who defended the officials.
In an order Tuesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson declined to impose sanctions against Lake and her lawyers, saying Lake’s failure to prove her case doesn’t “equate to a finding that her claims were, or were not, groundless and presented in bad faith.”
Thompson, who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, pointed to a statistical analysis by a pollster who had testified on behalf of Lake. The witness, who conducts public-opinion polls and is not an election worker, claimed technical problems at polling places on Election Day had disenfranchised enough voters that it would have changed the outcome of the race in Lake’s favor.
Although the analysis was never admitted into evidence at a two-day trial last week because of its unsupported assumptions, the judge said there was no case law to rule out using a statistical analysis as a way to prove a lawsuit that challenges election results.
Lawyers for Maricopa County and Hobbs, representing her in her roles as both the outgoing secretary of state and governor-elect, had requested about $695,000 in attorney fees and other legal costs, including the $33,000 in fees for witnesses. The attorneys argued Lake’s lawsuit was groundless and brought in bad faith.
Lake, who lost to Hobbs by just over 17,000 votes, was among the most vocal 2022 Republicans promoting former President Donald Trump’s election lies, which she made the centerpiece of her campaign. While most of the other election deniers around the country conceded after losing their races in November, Lake has not.
On Saturday, Thompson dismissed Lake’s election challenge, rejecting her claim that problems with ballot printers at some polling places on Election Day were the result of intentional misconduct. The judge concluded that the those failures didn’t affect the results of the election.
Lawyers for Lake, who had asked the court to either declare her the winner or order a revote in Maricopa County, formally notified Thompson on late Tuesday afternoon that they were appealing his dismissal of the lawsuit.
Lawyers for Lake focused on problems with ballot printers at some polling places in Maricopa County, home to more than 60% of Arizona’s voters. The defective printers produced ballots that were too light to be read by the on-site tabulators at polling places. Lines backed up in some areas amid the confusion.
County officials say everyone had a chance to vote and all ballots were counted, since ballots affected by the printers were taken to more sophisticated counters at the elections department headquarters.
Lake faced extremely long odds in her challenge, needing to prove not only that misconduct occurred, but also that it was intended to deny her victory and did in fact result in the wrong woman being declared the winner.
In early December, a federal judge ordered lawyers representing Lake and Mark Finchem, the defeated Republican candidate for secretary of state, to pay the legal costs for defending election officials against Lake and Finchem’s lawsuit that unsuccessfully sought to require hand counting of all ballots in the November election.
The judge hasn’t yet set the amount of the sanction, but attorneys who represented Maricopa County officials are seeking $141,000 in fees. Lake wasn’t ordered to pay any financial penalties in the case.