The Arizona Supreme Court should give failed GOP attorney general candidate Abraham Hamadeh another chance to overturn his 2022 loss, his legal team argued last week in an appeal to the high court.
The request aims to revive Hamadeh’s latest attempt to challenge his defeat, which was dismissed last month. The Republican, who lost the attorney general’s seat to Democrat Kris Mayes by just 280 votes, is seeking a new trial after one in December failed to convince a judge that widespread election misconduct cost him the race.
But in July, Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen rejected Hamadeh’s bid for a do-over, saying the time for election contests is long past and his revised arguments still don’t include any actual proof.
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Hamadeh’s push for a new trial is based on claims that the statewide recount, which identified 507 uncounted votes in Pinal County, indicates issues occurred elsewhere. He also alleges that that changes made to Service Arizona and the Arizona Voter Information Database resulted in as many as 1,000 rejected provisional ballots.
Jennifer Wright, an attorney for Hamadeh, said that Jantzen’s interpretation of election laws is flawed, and the way he conducted Hamadeh’s December trial prevented Hamadeh’s attorneys from presenting sufficient evidence. The only recourse, she wrote, is for the state’s high court to greenlight a new trial.
“A new trial will ensure the people of Arizona are represented by the candidate who received the most valid votes — nothing more, nothing less,” she wrote.
The two major disagreements Hamadeh’s campaign has with Jantzen’s ruling are over the time constraints of election contests and the extent to which election documents can be examined to make a case.
In his dismissal, Jantzen reasoned that the statutorily required speed with which election challenges must be resolved disqualified Hamadeh’s push for a new trial. State law mandates that hearings for election challenges be set no later than 15 days after being filed, and judges must issue rulings immediately. But, Wright said, simply mandating speedy proceedings doesn’t automatically void attempts to seek new trials or appeals. She pointed to the ongoing challenge from failed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, which the Arizona Supreme Court allowed to continue, as proof.
In that instance, the Supreme Court ruled that the trial court improperly dismissed one of Lake’s claims about early ballot approvals before her December trial and ordered it to consider it. In a trial focusing on just that issue, Lake presented no credible evidence of wrongdoing and her claim was rejected.
Repeated requests from Hamadeh’s attorneys to inspect more ballots and to expand the scope of the inspection to include documents like a list of provisional voters in Maricopa County or the cast vote record have also been erroneously rebuffed, according to Wright. While Jantzen has argued that ballot inspections should be limited to allow for a quick resolution, Wright said state law doesn’t actually include any language that constrains inspections.
Ultimately, Hamadeh contends, the procedural aspects of election contests are in the hands of the courts and Jantzen’s rules thwarted the ability of Hamadeh’s attorneys to gather evidence.
“The rules of discovery in this case were so narrowly defined that Petitioners could not reasonably identify the ‘issues’ (in particular as to the wrongfully rejected provisional ballots), the proceedings were drawn out and decidedly inefficient, Petitioners were surprised by the undervote evidence revealed at the recount, the entire trial was a ‘guessing game’ and justice has been denied,” Wright wrote.
Wright also excoriated state officials for taking strong positions against Hamadeh’s arguments and criticized Gov. Katie Hobbs, then the secretary of state, for refusing to reveal uncounted votes found during the Pinal County recount. State law directs the secretary of state to deliver the results of the recount to a judge, and only the judge is allowed to reveal those results.
”State and county officials used the power and purse of the government to take a substantive position in an election contest and to actively tip the scales of justice by withholding public records and concealing information that validated the vote count issues Petitioners raised at trial,” Wright wrote. “In this race decided by only 280 votes, these state actions directly oppose the constitutional rights of Arizonans to free and equal elections.”
To warrant skipping over review by the Arizona Court of Appeals and heading directly to the Arizona Supreme Court, a petition must establish violations from either the opposite party’s actions or in the judge’s ruling. Hamadeh’s legal team argued the latter occurred, criticizing Jantzen for issuing late and unsigned decisions in both the December trial and, later, their request for a new trial. An unsigned ruling can’t be officially appealed.
“These unexplainable and unnecessary delays on an issue of extreme statewide importance justify Petitioners’ request to seek extraordinary relief from this Court directly via special action,” Wright wrote, adding: “The parties’ rights to speedy decisions have been grossly and repeatedly violated.”
Hours after filing the special action, the Arizona Supreme Court set a briefing schedule to allow for rebuttals from opposing parties, and will likely decide whether or not to take up the case later this month.
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