Judge sanctions Arizona Republican for ‘groundless’ election challenge

Mar 6, 2023, 10:44 AM
Mark Finchem speaks at a campaign rally attended by former  President Donald Trump in Mesa, Arizona...
Mark Finchem speaks at a campaign rally attended by former President Donald Trump in Mesa, Arizona, on Oct. 9, 2022. (File Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
(File Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — An Arizona judge issued sanctions against Mark Finchem and his attorney for acting “in bad faith” last year by filing a “groundless” lawsuit challenging the Republican’s loss in the secretary of state election.

In a ruling filed Monday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Melissa Iyer Julian ordered Finchem and Daniel McCauley III to cover legal fees incurred in the case by Adrian Fontes, who defeated Finchem, and then-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is now governor. The amount is to be determined.

“None of contestant Finchem’s allegations, even if true, would have changed the vote count enough to overcome the 120,000 votes he needed to affect the result of this election,” Julian wrote. “The court finds that this lawsuit was groundless and not brought in good faith.”

The court rejected Finchem’s complaint in December. In Monday’s sanctions ruling, the judge criticized McCauley for filing a suit he appeared to know was groundless.

“That McCauley had some awareness that this case lacked merit is apparent by his own comments during oral argument whereby he expressed being less at risk of being disbarred as a result of the filing given his impending retirement,” Julian wrote.

“This too supports sanctions as it demonstrates a conscious decision to pursue the matter despite appreciating that the contest had no legal merit.”

It was the third time in the past year that sanctions were issued in lawsuits involving Finchem.

In December 2022, the attorneys for Finchem and co-plaintiff Kari Lake, a Republican candidate for governor, were ordered to pay Maricopa County’s legal fees for a suit filed last summer that sought to ban the use of ballot tabulation machines. The judge in that case admonished Lake and Finchem but decided that their actions didn’t rise to the level of warranting sanctions against them.

Finchem also was sanctioned in August 2022, along with U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar and state lawmaker Anthony Kern, for filing a defamation suit a judge determined was “primarily for purposes of harassment.” The three Republicans filed the complaint in 2021 against former Democratic state Rep. Charlene Fernandez after she called for an investigation of their roles in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the U.S. Capitol.

Lake and Finchem won their GOP primaries last year after aggressively promoting the narrative that the 2020 election was marred by fraud or widespread irregularities, but they lost to their Democratic opponents in the general election.

Rather than accepting their losses, they each filed lawsuits. The courts rejected the challenges for lacking evidence of wrongdoing that would have impacted the results, although Lake’s case is technically still alive because she petitioned the state Supreme Court to review it.

The state Court of Appeals said the only thing Lake had in backing up her claims about irregularities was “sheer speculation.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Judge sanctions Arizona Republican for ‘groundless’ election challenge