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Finchem, Gosar and Kern must pay ex-Dem lawmaker’s $75,000 legal fees for ‘groundless’ lawsuit

By: - August 30, 2022 1:10 pm

Mark Finchem, the GOP nominee for secretary of state, is one of three Republicans ordered to pay legal fees for a Democratic lawmaker they sued for defamation after a judge said the lawsuit was "groundless" and intended to harass a political opponent. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Republican secretary of state nominee Mark Finchem, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar and former GOP state legislator Anthony Kern must pay $75,000 in attorney’s fees to a former Democratic state lawmaker they sued after a judge said the lawsuit was “primarily for purposes of harassment.”

In February 2021, the three Republicans filed a lawsuit against Charlene Fernandez, then a Democratic legislator from Yuma, accusing her of defaming them by making disparaging remarks, connecting them to the violence of Jan. 6 and conspiring against them. 

The lawsuit was a reaction to a letter sent by Fernandez and other Democratic lawmakers asking the FBI to investigate Finchem, Kern and Gosar’s connections to the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C. 

The trio did not sue the 43 other Democratic legislators who also signed the letter. 

The lawsuit was stalled for months because Fernandez was immune from being served while the legislature’s annual session was taking place, but was eventually heard by a Yuma County Superior Court judge in March 2022. 

The following month, Judge Levi Gunderson dismissed the case and said its defamation claims were baseless and Fernandez’s comments and the letter she signed were clearly protected by the First Amendment. 

On Monday, Gunderson said that Finchem, Gosar and Kern must pay Fernandez’s legal fees because the lawsuit “was groundless and not made in good faith.”

In a scathing order, the judge wrote that the lawsuit — which included passages about the national political scene that are unrelated to Fernandez — was “written for an audience other than” the court in which it was filed. 

“The Court finds that (the) lawsuit … was brought for an improper purpose, having been filed against a political opponent primarily for purposes of harassment,” Gunderson wrote. 

Footage reviewed by the Arizona Mirror has shown that Kern was closer to the Capitol than he said he was, and he was recorded on the Capitol grounds while violent clashes with police were still ongoing. 

Finchem, too, was much closer to the Capitol on that day than he claimed. 

Finchem has insisted that he never got within 500 yards of the Capitol building, but Getty footage of the failed attempt to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election shows Finchem walking directly in front of the east steps at the Capitol after pro-Trump rioters had already broken through a series of barricades and police lines, and then smashed their way into the Capitol building.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.

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