US judge denies request to sanction Republican governor candidate

Arizona Governor-elect Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, sought sanctions against Republican rival Kari Lake over allegations of voter fraud.

Democratic Arizona Governor-elect Katie Hobbs at an NBA game.
Arizona Governor-elect Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, has pushed for a sanction against her Republican rival Kari Lake, saying her lawsuit contesting November’s election results was ‘in bad faith’ [Darryl Webb/AP Photo]

A United States judge has denied a request to sanction Kari Lake, the Republican candidate in Arizona’s gubernatorial race, over allegations she made when questioning the legitimacy of the state election.

But on Tuesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson did rule that Lake would be responsible for paying more than $33,000 to her rival, Democrat Katie Hobbs, for expenses incurred through expert witnesses and ballot inspections.

The decision comes days after Thompson threw out a lawsuit that Lake filed to contest her narrow defeat in November’s race for governor. Hobbs prevailed in that election by about 17,000 votes in a state that counts more than 4 million registered voters.

Tuesday’s decision comes after Hobbs filed a motion to sanction Lake, a vocal election denier, for claims she described as “groundless and not made in good faith”.

Hobbs sought a financial penalty of approximately $695,000 to cover lawyers’ fees and other expenses, both in her capacity as governor-elect and as Arizona’s current secretary of state, a role responsible for overseeing elections.

Kari Lake speaking with a microphone at a political event.
A judge on Saturday dismissed Arizona Republican candidate Kari Lake’s lawsuit, which contested her loss in November’s midterm elections [File: Jim Urquhart/Reuters]

But Judge Thompson rejected the thrust of Hobbs’s argument. The fact that Lake “failed to meet the burden of clear and convincing evidence” did not mean that her claims “were, or were not, groundless and presented in bad faith”, he concluded.

“There is no doubt that each side believes firmly in its position with great conviction,” Thompson wrote in his ruling.

Lake, a former television personality, was a political newcomer when she announced her campaign for governor of Arizona, an increasingly competitive swing state. She was part of a slate of candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump to run in November’s midterm elections.

Election denial became a centrepiece of her campaign. She even issued a TV advertisement denouncing the news media for not covering “the biggest story out there: the rigged election of 2020”.

That election saw Democratic candidate Joe Biden prevail over the incumbent Trump in the race for president. Biden narrowly edged out Trump in Arizona, though Trump falsely claimed to have won the state. Lake had joined calls to decertify Biden’s victory in the state.

Despite claims that her campaign was “going to win big”, Lake herself fell behind Hobbs in the final vote tally of November’s midterms. She took to social media to denounce the results, and on December 9, she filed a lawsuit asking the court to declare her the winner or order a new election.

In her 70-page legal filing, Lake took aim at several issues on election day, including long lines at polling sites and printer issues in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous county.

But her legal appeal was considered a long shot. Not only did she have to prove misconduct, but she also had to show that the misconduct intentionally denied her a win.

Governor-elect Hobbs, meanwhile, issued a statement on Twitter calling the lawsuit “Lake’s latest desperate attempt to undermine our democracy and throw out the will of the voters”.

Though Judge Thompson dismissed Lake’s lawsuit on December 24, he acknowledged the “anger and frustration” voters faced on election day.

“But this Court’s duty is not solely to incline an ear to public outcry,” Thompson said. “It is to subject Plaintiff’s claims and Defendants’ actions to the light of the courtroom and scrutiny of the law.”

Thompson also noted that setting aside valid election results “has never been done in the history of the United States”.

Lake has since promised to continue her legal fight, denouncing what she called “rigged elections”.

“My Election Case provided the world with evidence that proves our elections are run outside of the law,” she wrote on Twitter. “This Judge did not rule in our favor. However, for the sake of restoring faith and honesty in our elections, I will appeal his ruling.”

Hobbs is set to be sworn into office on January 5.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies