Judge orders woman to pay attorney fees to lawmaker in birther lawsuit

By: - January 24, 2019 9:13 am

Rep.-elect Raquel Terán and her attorney, Andy Gaona, speak to reporters outside Maricopa County Superior Court on Nov. 14. Terán faced an election challenge, which a judge dismissed, based on unfounded questions about her U.S. citizenship. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

The southern Arizona woman who falsely claimed Rep. Raquel Terán couldn’t hold office because she is not a U.S. citizen will have to pay more than $3,000 in attorneys fees, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.

Judge Connie Contes dismissed the case brought by Alice Novoa during a November hearing. The next day, Novoa filed a notice of appeal.

In Wednesday’s judgment, Contes concluded Novoa’s complaint “fails on the merits,” “has no basis in fact or law” and was procedurally flawed in its timing. Judge Contes also found Novoa knowingly brought the claim without substantial justification and primarily for the purpose of harassment.

The judge ordered Novoa to pay $3,000 in attorney fees and $279 in filing costs.

Novoa, a resident of a small community outside of Douglas, filed the lawsuit the day before Election Day. The next day, Terán was elected to the House of Representatives for Legislative District 30, which includes the west side of Phoenix and parts of Glendale.

Novoa brought the same lawsuit in 2012 when Terán unsuccessfully ran for state senate. The case was dismissed because of a technicality. Terán produced a copy of her birth certificate in court in 2012, and again in November.

The crux of Novoa’s argument is that Terán is not a U.S. citizen because of an unsubstantiated beliefs that her parents are “illegal aliens” and that she’s an “anchor baby” arguments that ignore the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1898. Anchor baby is a derogatory term that asserts immigrant parents have U.S.-born children for the purpose of gaining lawful immigration status.

“This birtherism undoubtedly is a conspiracy theory that won’t die, and it belongs in the deepest, darkest gutters of the internet and not in the court of law,” Andy Gaona, Terán’s lawyer, said Wednesday.

Terán said she hopes the case sends a message to those who are prejudiced against immigrants.

“People can’t get away with doing this type of harassment,” Terán said. “I’m hoping that we can move forward, that her and other people understand that this shouldn’t be happening if you’re a legislator, a worker, a student, whoever you are. … This is not what we are going to accept. This is not going to be the norm.”


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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for education, immigration, political, and public safety reporting and Spanish-language news and feature reporting. Laura worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.