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Failed Arizona candidate Kari Lake’s election lies boomerang against her in defamation lawsuit

Kari Lake at CPAC 2023

FILE – Kari Lake speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brando, File)

Now that her flurry of litigation attempting to overturn her electoral defeat has sputtered, failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake must contend with a defamation lawsuit filed by one of the men she accused of “sabotaging” the race.

Maricopa County recorder Stephen Richer’s lawsuit targets Lake, her campaign, and the fundraising entity that she controls, describing them as knowingly deceitful and financially motivated.

“Courts at every level of the Arizona judiciary have concluded that Defendants have no evidence to support their wild claims,” the lawsuit notes. “But Defendants continued to spread these egregious and harmful falsities to further their own agendas — and line their own pockets — at Richer’s expense.”

That campaign by Lake and her entities resulted in “threats of violence, and even death” against Richer and his family, who have had their “lives turned upside down,” according to the lawsuit.

A Donald Trump loyalist who ran on conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, Lake has been a prolific litigant after losing by a 17,117-vote margin to her Democratic rival, Gov. Katie Hobbs. Lake’s defeat fell beyond the scope of a mandatory recount, leading to Lake filing a cascade of lawsuits that fell flat. The final one in her arsenal collapsed in late May.

On Dec. 1, 2022, U.S. District Judge John J. Tuchi sanctioned Lake’s legal team for “recklessly” filing “false, misleading and unsupported” claims in connection to one failed lawsuit, but Richer’s new lawsuit attempts to continue turning the tables on her.

“Lake has shown herself to be committed to a false narrative concerning stolen elections,” the lawsuit states. “She has pressed that false narrative in statements related to at least three elections — the 2020 general election, the 2022 primary election, and the 2022 general election — and has a history of stating falsehoods on social media, in speeches, through court filings, and elsewhere to perpetuate that false narrative.”

In order to prevail, Richer will need to prove that Lake acted with actual malice, meaning that she knew that her claims against him were false or acted with reckless disregard for the truth. The lawsuit argues that Lake’s “personal vitriol and spite” against Richer will help prove his case.

“Getting tips from Stephen Richer about elections integrity is like getting fire safety tips from an arsonist,” Lake wrote in a tweet on Jan. 13, 2023.

The tweet is embedded in Richer’s complaint.

Under defamation law, actual malice isn’t synonymous with ill will, though the latter can be evidence in supplying a motive for knowingly lying. Richer’s complaint supplies numerous other examples.

“In the past year alone, Lake’s and Lake Campaign’s Twitter accounts have repeatedly targeted Richer and called him an ‘incompetent, corrupt fool,’ a ‘corrupt moron,’ and a ‘reprehensible human being,'” the complaint notes.

Such messages found an angry and vengeful audience, Richer says, citing one who responded to Lake’s announcement that Arizona election officials should feel ashamed.

“F— shame, when do the hangings start?” one said, according to the complaint.

The Justice Department prosecuted “at least one person who credibly threatened Richer’s life,” the complaint notes.

The lawsuit divides the defamation allegations into Lake’s conspiracy theory that Richer intentionally misprinted the Election Day ballots in the wrong size “so that the tabulators would jam all day long” — and another accusing him of inserting 300,000 “illegal,” “invalid,” “phony,” and “bogus” early-vote ballots into the Maricopa County vote count.

The courts roundly rejected all of Lake’s theories. The complaint, comprised of five causes of action, doesn’t specify the amount of requested compensatory and punitive damages.

Lake’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Read the complaint in full here.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."