ARIZONA NEWS

Arizona GOP loses bid to undo $18K in fees over 2020 election lawsuit

Apr 21, 2023, 7:23 AM

Dr. Kelli Ward, left, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, talks with a supporter of President Do...

Dr. Kelli Ward, left, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, talks with a supporter of President Donald Trump as they join the crowd at a rally outside the Arizona state capitol Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Phoenix. On Thursday, April 20, 2023, the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected an appeal over the dismissal of the party's lawsuit challenging President Joe Biden's 2020 victory in Arizona. Ward, whose tenure as party chair ended in January 2023, was Arizona's top GOP leader when the lawsuit was filed. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

PHOENIX — An appeals court has rejected a bid by the Arizona Republican Party and its lawyers to undo $18,000 in attorneys’ fees that they were ordered to pay for bringing one of the party’s failed lawsuits challenging President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the state.

In an order Thursday, the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the party’s lawsuit, concluding that evidence supported a lower-court judge finding that the party’s legal claims were groundless and rejecting its allegation that the judge stuck them with the attorneys’ fees for primarily political motives.

The appeals court wrote, “The First Amendment does not shield attorneys or parties from a court’s obligation” under a law requiring judges to impose attorneys’ fees against those who bring claims to court without substantial justification or to delay or harass.

In a statement, the Arizona Republican Party said, “We were surprised by the court’s decision, and will be speaking with legal counsel soon to discuss the best path forward. We are committed to ensuring that elections are fair and accurate.”

Jack Wilenchik, an attorney who at the time represented the party, said the decision will be appealed.

The fees that the party and its attorneys were ordered to pay cover the costs that taxpayers were forced to pick up to defend government officials in the case. In the lawsuit, the party tried unsuccessfully to postpone the certification of election results in Maricopa County and seek a new audit of a sampling of ballots.

While the Republican Party said the purpose of its challenge was to determine whether voting machines were hacked, election officials argued the lawsuit was a delay tactic aimed at undermining the certification of election results.

Of the eight unsuccessful lawsuits challenging Biden’s win in Arizona, two were filed by the Arizona Republican Party and another case was filed by then-Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward, whose tenure as state party leader ended in January.

No evidence of fraud or hacking of voting machines emerged from the election in Arizona.

The county completed a hand-count of some ballots about a week after the election showing that its machine counts were 100% accurate. The same was found later during routine post-election accuracy tests on the counting machines.

Still, the GOP lawsuit sought a new limited electronic audit of ballots that would be measured on a precinct level, rather than the audit that was conducted of the county’s new vote centers, which let people vote at any location across the county. The GOP argued state law requires the hand-count audit to be done on the basis of precincts and said county officials would still have adequate time to certify results.

The lower-court judge found the state GOP had waited too long to file its challenge, and the Court of Appeals concluded that the party had waived any challenge of that portion of the ruling.

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Arizona GOP loses bid to undo $18K in fees over 2020 election lawsuit