Judge denies Lake’s motions to dismiss Richer defamation case 

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer’s defamation suit against U.S. Senate hopeful Kari Lake will move forward, after a judge denied Lake’s motion to dismiss and found that the statements Lake made about Richer were not “rhetorical hyperbole.” 

Superior Court Judge Jay Adleman issued a ruling Wednesday morning, writing that Richer had provided sufficient evidence that Lake made “false and defamatory statements” about him for the case to head toward a jury trial. 

Lawyers for Lake argued during a Tuesday hearing that Adleman should dismiss the case because Richer had not supplied sufficient proof to back up his defamation claim and that through the suit, Richer was attempting to chill Lake’s right to free political speech. 

But Adleman wasn’t persuaded by either of those arguments and also didn’t buy Lake attorney Jennifer Wright’s claims that Lake’s statements about Richer were “rhetorical hyperbole” and not meant to be taken as facts. 

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“The alleged statements in this case cannot be classified merely as ‘descriptive’ language,” Adleman wrote, dismissing Wright’s statements that Lake was only voicing her opinions about the facts in her claims about Richer. 

Richer, a Republican, filed the defamation suit against Lake in July, after she and her followers spent months accusing him and other Maricopa County officials of rigging the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial race in favor of Democratic Gov. Katie Hobb. Lake, also a Republican, lost the race by more than 17,000 votes, but has continued to insist that she was the true winner, despite losing multiple court cases in which she challenged the results of the election, in trial and appeals courts, as well as before the Arizona Supreme Court. 

Richer is suing Lake for two major claims she’s made repeatedly: That he was involved in the “injection” of 300,000 illegal early ballots in Maricopa County on Election Day 2022, and that he took part in intentionally programing ballot printers to print incorrectly-sized ballot images, causing tabulators to reject those ballots on Election Day. 

Lake used both of these claims in her court challenges to the results of the 2022 election, and the courts rejected them both. 

While incorrectly-sized ballot images did cause problems on Election Day 2022 for in-person voters, as tabulators rejected them, all of those rejected ballots were later counted, and an independent investigation found no evidence that the printers were intentionally programmed to print the wrong-sized ballot images. 

Adleman pointed to several of Lake’s statements in his ruling, driving home his determination that those statements were provable as true or false. 

“They printed, intentionally, the wrong image on the ballot, knowing that 75% of the people showing up on Election Day were voting for me,” Lake said of Richer and other Maricopa County officials during a Feb. 20 podcast. “They intentionally print the wrong image on the ballot so it jams the tabulator.”

The judge also referenced Lake’s comments from her Jan. 29 “Save Arizona Rally,” in his decision. 

“And we know that 300,000 illegal ballots, because they didn’t have chain of custody, were counted in the final total,” Lake said during the rally. 

While Wright argued during Tuesday’s hearing that an Arizona Appeals Court found Lake’s claims about the illegal ballots to be true, the appeals court actually called Lake’s math on the matter “questionable” and did not conclude that any of the ballots were illegally accepted or counted. 

Adleman also found that Richer provided sufficient evidence that Lake made the statements about him with “actual malice” meaning she knew that they were false, or recklessly disregarded whether they were true or false. 

This is important because public officials like Richer must prove actual malice to win defamation cases, a higher bar than for the average citizen. 

“Plaintiff has set forth a factual and legal basis – consistent with First Amendment principles – to bring his defamation claims against these Defendants,” Adleman wrote. 

Following the judge’s decision, Lake doubled down on her claims about the 2022 election. 

“An elected government official is suing me for revealing the corruption in the elections he administered,” Lake posted on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, Wednesday morning. “He has a bunch of Soros-backed attorneys representing him. This is about taking away our First Amendment rights and interfering in the US Senate race. This case should have been tossed out of court.”

Richer is represented in the case by lawyers from the nonprofit group Protect Democracy, 

Adleman was appointed to the bench in 2013 by Republican then-Gov. Jan Brewer.

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