Judge orders sanctions against Arizona GOP candidate who refused to accept loss

March 8, 2023

An Arizona judge has ordered sanctions against Mark Finchem and his attorney over false claims they made about election fraud after Finchem, the Republican candidate for Arizona secretary of state, lost his race last November and refused to accept the results, reports The Washington Post.

Weeks after the election, Finchem sued his Democratic opponent, Adrian Fontes, and then-Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D)—challenging the results of the vote and requesting that a new election be held. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Melissa Iyer Julian tossed his suit in December, saying it was groundless.

Fontes and Hobbs asked the court in December to sanction Finchem, according to The Arizona Republic, saying his case was “a politically motivated weaponization of the legal process meant to perpetuate the dangerous narrative that our elections are unreliable, our elected leaders are corrupt, and our democracy is broken.”

In a new ruling last week, Julian agreed, ordering Finchem and his lawyer, Daniel McCauley III, to cover legal fees for Fontes and Hobbs—who both won their November races and have since assumed new roles as Arizona’s secretary of state and governor, respectively.

In her ruling, Julian noted that Arizona law sought to discourage lawsuits without “legitimate basis in fact or law”—but also emphasized that sanctions should be awarded only in rare cases, so as not to discourage legitimate challenges. But this was such a case, she added.

“None of contestant Finchem’s allegations, even if true, would have changed the vote count enough to overcome the 120,000 votes he needed to affect the result of this election,” Julian wrote. “The court finds that this lawsuit was groundless and not brought in good faith.”

Julian wrote that there was no evidence that Finchem or his lawyer made any efforts to examine if their claims actually formed a valid basis for challenging the election; and that they continued to assert their false claims, despite evidence to the contrary.

“Although election challenges must be filed on an expedited basis, in this instance Finchem had the necessary facts and controlling case law available to him when he nevertheless elected to pursue a meritless challenge,” Julian wrote.

Julian declined to award any additional penalty or damages beyond the attorneys’ fees, which remain to be determined.

Neither Finchem nor McCauley could be reached immediately Monday.

Finchem is among the Republican candidates and officials who have faced repercussions for embracing former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. In Arizona alone, a slate of far-right election deniers—including Finchem, GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, Senate candidate Blake Masters, and attorney general candidate Abraham Hamadeh—all lost their races in November to Democrats.

Across the country, state election officials and lawmakers have drafted legislation and taken other actions to fight election denialism and misinformation. In North Carolina last month, the State Board of Elections began proceedings that could end with the removal of a county election officer who had refused to certify the 2022 results even as he acknowledged the lack of evidence of irregularities.

Still, advocates say more pushback is crucial, because so many leading election deniers appear undaunted by their defeats in November. Despite losing the Arizona governor’s race with a campaign message focused heavily on false claims of election fraud, Lake is considering a bid for the U.S. Senate next year. In two political speeches in Iowa last month and a speech to a conservative forum last week, Lake continued her full-throated embrace of those claims.

Research contact: @washingtonpost