Judge tosses lawsuit against former Arizona House Democratic leader
YUMA, Ariz. — A Yuma court on Friday dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed against a former Democratic state lawmaker by three Republican politicians after she called for an investigation of their roles in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Judge Pro Tem Levi Gunderson found the comments by former Rep. Charlene Fernandez were protected by the First Amendment’s rights to free speech and petition the government.
Fernandez along with 41 other Democratic lawmakers signed a letter on Jan. 12, 2021, urging the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate then-state Reps. Mark Finchem and Anthony Kern along with U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, all Republicans. Finchem and Kern were outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, while Gosar and Biggs are under scrutiny for their roles in supporting protests leading up to the counting of electoral votes that day. All have denied wrongdoing.
Finchem and Kern sued Fernandez and were later joined in the suit by Gosar. They claimed that the letter was a smear and that Fernandez “baselessly” accused them of the “highest possible crimes against the Government of the United States.”
Of the 42 Democrats who signed the letter, Fernandez was the only one who was sued. She was previously the House Democratic leader but was not in Democratic leadership at the time the letter was signed and publicly released. Fernandez resigned from the Legislature last year to take a job in President Joe Biden’s administration.