A trial court judge has said Republican secretary of state nominee Mark Finchem will be forced to pay attorney’s fees in what the judge called a “groundless” lawsuit that aimed to overturn his election loss.
Finchem challenged his loss to Adrian Fontes, who won by about five percentage points — more than 120,000 votes. Finchem said his Democratic opponent only won because of massive election malfeasance at the hands of Maricopa County and then-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, though he provided no evidence anything affected the election outcome.
He wanted his election loss to Fontes overturned, a statewide hand-recount of all ballots and a court order that the attorney general investigate Hobbs, who was elected governor in the same election, for what he claimed was self-dealing and threatening public officials.
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Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Melissa Julian said it was brought in bad faith, as many of the claims brought by Finchem would not have materially affected the outcome of his election even if they were true.
“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 in her ruling, adding that his claims were “groundless.”
Fontes praised the ruling, saying in a written statement issued by his campaign that “bad actors like (Finchem) cannot be permitted to avoid accountability.”
“His repeated lies, apparent campaign finance violations, and bad-faith legal efforts are a drain on Arizona taxpayers and a stain on our state’s image,” Fontes said. “Anything less than holding Mr. Finchem fully accountable will reward him for his misconduct and embolden others to act similarly in the future.”
The ruling slams the claims brought by Finchem and Cave Creek attorney Daniel McCauley as lacking merit. In her ruling, Julian noted that, while there needs to be a balance on brining sanctions against litigants for election contests as not to cause a “chilling effect” for those who bring proper concerns, Finchem’s case was brought in “bad faith” and McCauley and Finchem likely knew this.
She cited statements and actions by Finchem and McCauley as the basis for this claim. One statement was made by McCauley in December when Julian initially dismissed the election contest, opening up the possibility for sanctions.
“I took this (case) because they needed somebody to do this,” McCauley said at the dismissal hearing. “I guess it does not matter if I get sanctioned here. I’m 75, semi-retired, and it will be two years or so before they get to it.”
Julian noted that McCauley’s comment showed that he had “some awareness that this case lacked merit” as “he expressed being less at risk of being disbarred as a result of the filing given his impending retirement.”
McCauley’s statement also supported Julian’s decision to allow sanctions as it demonstrated “a conscious decision to pursue the matter despite appreciating that the contest had no legal merit.”
Julian also took issue with Finchem not pursuing legal means of proving the alleged fraud he claimed was prevalent in the election.
Under Arizona law, Finchem had the opportunity to inspect the ballots that he was claiming were fraudulent, but withdrew his request to do so in the case despite claiming that 80,000 votes were “missing” and would likely favor him. Finchem lost the election by more than 120,000 votes.
“This demonstrates that Finchem challenged his election loss despite knowing that his claims regarding misconduct and procedural irregularities were insufficient under the law to sustain the contest,” the judge concluded.
Finchem has been known to make bold claims and back out of providing evidence, as a recently released report from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office showed. Finchem met with then-Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s Election Integrity Unit investigators after he had made multiple claims online.
Investigators were interested in speaking with Finchem about claims he made regarding Pima County and him finding allegedly 35,000 fraudulent voters. But when Finchem met with investigators, he did not mention that allegation. Instead, he said he did not have any evidence of fraud and did not wish to take up their time.
He did give investigators four early ballots that he said showed a “flawed process” for mailing ballots, as they had been sent to prior residents of the address that was on file. None of the ballots were opened or counted, and the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office had no record that the people in question had changed their address with them.
Neither Finchem nor his attorney followed up with attorneys for Secretary of State Adrian Fontes or Gov. Katie Hobbs, who also provided a litany of evidence that was publicly available that dismissed all of the claims made by Finchem’s suit. Instead, Finchem’s attorney argued over how certain court proceedings work without citing any relevant case law.
Julian ruled that Finchem will have to pay attorney fees to both Fontes and Hobbs, but did not award any additional damages.
McCauley declined to comment in an email to the Arizona Mirror.
Late Monday afternoon, Finchem released a statement assailing the judge, Fontes and Hobbs for what he said was “contemptible judicial overreach” that violated his First Amendment right to free speech and shut down any questioning of the 2022 election.
“This is the dawn of the one-party state banana republic as we have seen in Venezuela and many other South American nation-states,” he said.
Finchem is still fundraising off the conspiracy theories of election fraud, saying that the funds will be going “toward paying down campaign debt as well as legal defense fees for ongoing lawsuits pertaining to the election.”
Finchem has no campaign debt and no ongoing election lawsuits.
His latest fundraising email features himself and John Thaler speaking about the debunked conspiracy theory that was aired before a joint session of the Senate and House elections committee last month.
This is not the first time Finchem has been sanctioned for an election lawsuit. Finchem was sanctioned in federal court alongside former gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake for a lawsuit that aimed to ban the use of electronic tabulation machines in the state in favor of a hand count.
***UPDATE: This story was updated to include comments from Adrian Fontes and Mark Finchem.
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