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Kari Lake admits to defaming Maricopa County official

Republican Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and former President Donald Trump.
Former Republican Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and former President Donald Trump.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- In a sudden shift, Kari Lake is now admitting she defamed Stephen Richer.
And what that leaves is the question of how much she and her campaign are going to have to pay the Maricopa County recorder.
Richer said that is to be determined. But he said it will be "a lot.''
The surprise filing Tuesday came as attorneys for Richer were preparing to ask Judge Jay Alderman to declare Lake in default for failing to having even filed an answer to the complaint that was first filed last June.
So Lake, in essence, beat them to the punch by conceding everything that Richer first alleged. That specifically includes that she knew when she claimed he had "sabotaged'' the 2022 election by having ballots printed in the wrong side that was false.
Ditto her statements that Richer illegally inserted more than 300,000 phony early ballots into the system.
Yet in a video statement explaining her decision, Lake insisted her legal capitulation has nothing to do with her conceding that what she said was wrong -- even if that's exactly what is in the legal papers filed in Maricopa County Superior Court. Instead, she said it was a strategic move that allowed her to focus her attention on her bid for the U.S. Senate.
"By participating in this lawsuit it would only serve to legitimize this perversion of our legal system and allow bad actors to interfere in our upcoming election,'' Lake said.
Richer, for his part, declared her decision a total victory for him and his fight to clear his name of the charges Lake make.
"It is now official that she accepts that all of that is a lie,'' he told Capitol Media Services.
"She has been lying the entire time, we have told her she has been lying the entire time,'' Richer said. And he said Lake knew she was lying because judges in other election cases she had filed challenging her loss had found there was no basis for either the claim that the ballots were deliberately mis-sized or that there had been fraudulent ballots inserted into the final count of the election that was won by to Democrat Katie Hobbs by 17,117 votes.
"And now she officially will have a judgment entered against her for lying about me in connection with the 2022 election,'' Richer said.
"That's pretty rarified air,'' he continued. "I don't think that many people have against them. So that's special.''
In filing suit, Richer said that Lake, her campaign, and the Save Arizona Fund, a political action committee which she has used to raise money, all acted with "actual malice.'' That is crucial because, in general, people who are considered public figures like Richer cannot get a defamation judgment unless they prove by clear and convincing evidence that the person making the statement knew it to be false or that the statement was made with reckless disregard for the truth.
Lake initially sought to have the case thrown out, claiming that her comments were "mere rhetorical hyperbole'' that were never meant as statements of fact. A trial judge rejected that assertion, a decision upheld earlier this month by the Arizona Supreme Court.
That left only two options for Lake: go to trial or concede. Richer said that, based on Lake's record in this case, she would choose the former.
"I thought, great, we'll relitigate whether 2022 was stolen or not for the umpteenth time,'' he said. "But, apparently, she doesn't want to do that.''
Lake, however, had a different explanation for her decision.
"It's called lawfare: weaponizing the legal system to punish, impoverish and destroy political opponents,'' she said.
"We've all seen how they're doing it to President Trump,'' Lake said. "And here in Arizona, they're doing the exact same thing to me.''
And, in both cases, she said, the tactic is to tie them up in lawsuits and keep them off the campaign trail.
"Behind this ridiculous lawsuit are a dozen East Coast lawyers funded by special interests who have rolled into Arizona to interfere in my campaign for U.S. Senate,'' Lake said. "It is a political witch hunt and everyone knows it.''
It is true that many of the attorneys are from New York or Washington. But the case was first filed by Daniel Maynard who pointed out he has been an Arizona resident for 40 years.
With Lake admitting liability, what's left is figuring out how much she owes Richer, something Lake wants determined by a jury.
Richer has claimed actual expenses, like additional security for his home and family he said was necessary because of threats, including calls for their execution. Then there are the damages Richer said to his reputation.
Maynard said, though, there's also the aspect of "unjust enrichment.'' That, he said, is based on the amount of money both her campaign and her political action committee took in each time Lake made one of her false statements and then used those statements to solicit donations on social media.
In filing suit, he pointed to a website for her political action committee that featured a six-minute video of Lake discussing the 2022 election and accusing Richer of intentionally sabotaging the election. The site also asked visitors to "donate to support Kari Lake and Save Arizona,'' seeking donations from $25 to $100,000.
Maynard said at the time he believes that just between Dec. 5 and Dec. 24 -- when the trial judge in a separate case filed by Lake challenging her loss that there was no evidence of fraud in the election -- she raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through the Save Arizona Fund. And he said all the funds raised have been used to boost Lake's political ambitions.
For example, Maynard said, the Save Arizona Fund paid for campaign events in Iowa where Lake has met with voters.
"That follows a prior pattern where Lake has told her supporters that fundraising money was needed to contest the election, but then spent the money raised on other items, including more than $35,000 on travel and hotel accommodations,'' Maynard said.
And there's something else that will affect the amount of money owed.
In admitting that she acted with actual malice, Lake opens herself up to having to pay punitive damages. These are awards designed not so much to compensate victims but to punish those who are liable.
That could involve subjecting Lake to depositions to answer questions about her decisions to make the comments.
All that evidence eventually would be presented to a jury that would come up with a number.
On X and Threads: @azcapmedia