Arizona taxpayers foot bill for lawmakers’ challenge to 2020 election

Howard Fischer

PHOENIX — Arizona taxpayers are footing the $5,000 bill for a legal bid by the state’s two top GOP lawmakers to help Abe Hamadeh try to overturn his loss to Kris Mayes in last year’s election for attorney general.In a new legal filing, a private attorney hired by Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma is telling the Arizona Supreme Court that the pair “take no position” on the question of whether Democrat Mayes outpolled Republican Hamadeh by 280 votes as certified in the formal results. Instead, Tom Basile argues that their interest is to “afford the parties a full and fair opportunity to adduce the facts necessary to answer that pivotal question.”Basile said that did not occur when Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen declined last month to give Hamadeh a second trial on his challenge to the election results and another opportunity to search for evidence not all ballots were counted. Jantzen had previously ruled in December that Hamadeh failed to provide evidence the election results were wrong.

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But Basile also lashed out at Mayes and her legal team, telling the Arizona Supreme Court that Hamadeh’s rights were harmed by litigation tactics to “extinguish … entirely through delay” his ability to discover and present new information.Basile had particularly harsh words for Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who took office in January, whose office is a party to the case because of its statutory role in elections. Fontes filed a legal brief urging the justices to reject Hamadeh’s bid for a new trial.In that brief, Fontes accuses Hamadeh and the Republican National Committee, which also is contesting the outcome of the race, with failing to act in good faith in dealing with the courts.”We cannot allow a disgruntled vocal minority to weaponize our courts, sow unfounded distrust in our election processes, malign our public servants, and undermine our democracy — all for the purpose of trying to overturn the people’s will and topple an election,” Fontes wrote.Fontes also wants the justices to order sanctions against Hamadeh and his lawyers.Basile termed the language in Fontes’ filings “gratuitous and abusive.” He accused Fontes of “churlish imperiousness” in dismissing Hamadeh’s bid to reexamine some ballots to determine if the should be recounted.”Citizens should not be disparaged and assailed by their own public servants for raising measured and modest claims … in the closest election for statewide office in Arizona history,” Hamadeh’s attorney wrote. Petersen, the Senate president, brushed aside inquiries about the Legislature spending taxpayer money to get involved in the dispute about who won the 2022 election. He pointed out that lawmakers have filed briefs in other cases.An aide to Toma said it is “in the public interest to get to a conclusion in this case.””It is a legitimate question whether all relevant laws were followed,” said the aide, Andrew Wilder.The Legislature’s legal brief argues that Jantzen had a “misconception” of what election laws require when he limited Hamadeh’s ability to inspect ballots.”As lawmakers, the legislative branch has a constitutional voice in this matter,” Wilder said.Petersen and Toma aren’t the only ones hoping to convince the state’s high court to give Hamadeh another chance to argue his case. Another new legal filing has come from America First Legal Foundation, formed following the 2020 election by senior Trump legal adviser Stephen Miller.The organization describes itself as designed to save the United States from a “coordinated campaign” by “an unholy alliance of corrupt special interests, gig tech titans, the fake news media, and liberal Washington politicians.”James Rogers, its attorney, accuses the Secretary of State’s Office — under the control of Katie Hobbs at the time Hamadeh’s first trial occurred in December — of using “hide the ball tactics” to withhold from the trial judge information it contends was relevant. He told the justices that requires them to send the case back to Jantzen to give the GOP contender the opportunity for “full inspection” of ballots he did not get the first time around.The justices have yet to decide whether to accept Hamadeh’s request that they order a new trial or have him go through the regular appellate process.
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Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist who has been reporting since 1970 and covering state politics and the Legislature since 1982. Follow him on Twitter at @azcapmedia or email 

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