Lake lawyers say her claims about Richer were ‘hyperbole’ 

Attorneys for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake argued in court on Tuesday that a judge should dismiss Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer’s defamation lawsuit against her, saying that Lake’s claims were “rhetorical hyperbole” and not meant to be taken as facts. 

Lake’s lawyers also claimed that Richer filed the suit with the intention to chill her right to political speech, as protected by the First Amendment. Attorneys representing Richer argued against both of those claims. 

Richer, also a Republican, filed the suit in June after enduring a continuous onslaught of vitriol and false claims from Lake and her followers regarding the outcome of the 2022 race for Arizona governor, which Lake continues to claim was stolen from her and given to Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs. 

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Lake lost the race by 17,000 votes and has lost multiple challenges to the results in trial, appeals and the Arizona Supreme courts. 

One of the attorneys for Lake, former Arizona Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Wright, claimed that Lake’s statements about Richer were merely her opinions backed up by provable facts, and therefore protected speech. 

When Lake said that Richer was somehow involved in the illegal injection of bogus ballots or that he “sabotaged” the election, those statements weren’t meant to be taken as facts, Wright said. 

“Those are her opinions about the facts,” Wright told the court. 

Attorney for Richer, Cameron Kistler of the nonprofit group Protect Democracy, countered Wright’s argument. 

For example, Lake told her followers during a Jan. 29 “Save Arizona Rally” that Richer and Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates intentionally printed incorrectly sized ballot images on Election Day 2022 as a form of “sabotage” because they knew that the majority of in-person voters that day would be Republicans supporting Lake, and that the incorrectly-sized ballots would cause the tabulators to reject those ballots. 

This was one of the claims that judges in Arizona trial, appeals and the state Supreme Court threw out during Lake’s election challenge cases. 

While ballot printing issues caused significant delays and frustration at the polls in Maricopa County in 2022, ballots that were rejected by the tabulators were later counted. 

Wright also claimed that the Court of Appeals confirmed Lake’s assertion that thousands of illegal early ballots were added in with legal ballots on Election Day 2022. 

“Chain of custody was not followed, as reflected in the Court of Appeals opinion,” Wright said, later adding that she would strongly question Richer’s ability to prove that Lake’s statements are untrue. 

But Kistler refuted that, referring to a portion of the appeals court decision that called Lake’s math “questionable” on the number of ballots she claimed were “bogus.” The appeals court decision did not include confirmation that the judges believed any ballots were illegally inserted or counted. 

“The First Amendment gives the defendant the right to criticize Stephen Richer’s election administration, his political views and even his hair, but the First Amendment does not give defendants the right to falsely and repeatedly accuse Stephen of committing specific unlawful acts,” Kistler said. 

He added that Lake shouldn’t be able to make statements about Richer to her audience as if she was recounting facts and then come to court and to say she was actually only sharing her opinion. 

“They defend a sanitized version of the defendant’s remarks, not what she actually said,” Kistler told the court. 

Jessica Banks, student attorney with Arizona State University’s First Amendment Project, argued on Lake’s behalf that Richer’s suit violates Arizona’s Strategic Action Against Public Participation law, commonly referred to as anti-SLAPP law. 

“Richer is attempting to chill Kari Lake’s speech,” Banks said, referring to Lake’s First Amendment right to make statements about political opponents and public figures. “Any lawsuit motivated by deterring or retaliating against a defendant’s lawful right to constitutional speech should not move forward.”

Another attorney for Richer, Larry Schwartztol, professor of practice at Harvard Law, contended that Arizona’s anti-SLAPP statute strikes a careful balance between allowing free speech and giving someone who has been defamed their day in court. 

Banks said that Richer’s request for relief if he wins the defamation suit — in the form of Lake deleting all untrue posts about Richer — was in itself an attempt to chill Lake’s right to free speech. 

But Schwartztol countered that if Banks’ argument was true, that simply filing a defamation case and asking for relief would be an attempt to chill free speech, and Arizona’s anti-SLAPP law would stop all defamation cases. 

Richer said in his suit that as a consequence of Lake’s false claims about him, he’s faced daily hate, in the form of emails, direct messages on Twitter, voicemails and in person confrontations. 

Richer says in the suit that he and his wife have spent thousands of dollars to install new security features in their home and that local law enforcement now do regular patrols at Richer’s home and his and his wife’s workplaces. 

Because he’s a public figure, Richer would have to clear a high bar to win the defamation suit against Lake. He must prove that, not only did Lake publicly make false statements about him and knew they were false or acted recklessly in regards to whether they were true or false, but also that she made those claims with actual malice

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jay Adleman promised at the end of the Tuesday morning hearing to issue his ruling “in pretty short order” but did not provide a specific timeframe. 

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