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Ariz. county ordered to certify election as GOP lawyers are sanctioned

Cochise County belatedly certified the Nov. 8 vote as a judge sanctioned lawyers for Kari Lake and Mark Finchem over their failed suit to force a hand count

A woman protests during a closed session of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on Thursday in Phoenix. (Caitlin O'Hara for The Washington Post)

A judge in Arizona on Thursday ordered the governing board of a ruby-red county in the southeastern corner of the state to certify the results of the Nov. 8 election, finding that its members had no authority to shirk a duty required under state law.

“You will meet today,” Superior Court Judge Casey F. McGinley told the three members of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors. “You will canvass the election no later than 5 o’clock.”

When the board convened at 3:30 p.m., with one Republican absent, the two remaining supervisors, one Republican and one Democrat, voted to certify the results.

The surrender, under court order, ended a standoff in Cochise County that threatened to upend the state’s process for affirming the will of more than 2.5 million Arizona voters. The ensuing chaos could have undermined the projected victories of Republicans in a U.S. House seat and the statewide race for schools superintendent.

Katie Hobbs, the Democratic secretary of state and governor-elect, moved aggressively to head off that scenario. Her office sued the Cochise County board on Monday, after its members voted 2-1 to flout a deadline for all counties to certify the results in a process known as canvassing the election. State certification is set for Dec. 5.

The denouement in Cochise County played out as a federal judge, also on Thursday, sanctioned lawyers for Kari Lake and Mark Finchem, the unsuccessful GOP candidates for governor and secretary of state, respectively. Taken together, the orders show how judges are scorning efforts to politicize ministerial roles and undermine election administration.

The federal judge, John Tuchi of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, wrote that sanctions would “make clear that the Court will not condone litigants … furthering false narratives that baselessly undermine public trust at a time of increasing disinformation about, and distrust in, the democratic process.”

Lake and Finchem sued Maricopa County earlier this year in a bid to require a hand count of the vote in that county, home to Phoenix, as well as in Pima County, home to Tucson. Tuchi dismissed their suit in August, determining that Lake and Finchem had made vague and unsubstantiated allegations about the flaws of voting machines. They filed a notice of appeal the following month.

In his new ruling Thursday, the judge found that sanctions in the case were appropriate “to send a message to those who might file similarly baseless suits in the future.”

Tuchi, who was nominated to the federal bench in 2013 by President Barack Obama, reasoned that payment of attorneys’ fees for Maricopa County was a proper sanction as the county and its lawyers had to “spend time and resources defending this frivolous lawsuit rather than preparing for the elections over which plaintiffs’ claims baselessly kicked up a cloud of dust.”

Attorneys for Lake and Finchem went unnamed in the judge’s order, which directed Maricopa County to detail their attorneys’ fees within 14 days. Among attorneys listed by the candidates in court filings was Alan Dershowitz, the former Harvard Law School professor who has previously advised former president Donald Trump.

Lake, Finchem, Dershowitz and other attorneys involved in the case did not respond to requests for comment.

The case was financed largely by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has promoted debunked claims about voter fraud. Lindell told The Washington Post on Thursday evening that he had not yet spoken to attorneys about the sanctions and noted they had appealed Tuchi’s dismissal of the underlying case. He said the sanctions were unwarranted. “They had more experts and more evidence than any case in history,” he said. “It’s disgusting what judges are doing, including that one.”

The judge sanctioned only lawyers for the candidates, not the candidates themselves, though he stressed that “the Court does not find that Plaintiffs have acted appropriately in this matter — far from it.”

“To sanction plaintiffs’ counsel here is not to let Plaintiffs off the hook,” he added. “It is to penalize specific attorney conduct with the broader goal of deterring similarly baseless filings initiated by anyone, whether an attorney or not.”

Lake, who has not conceded her race, was at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida on Thursday when the order came down in Arizona, according to a person familiar with her activities who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss nonpublic events. She was scheduled to deliver remarks there and to accept an award at an event hosted by Moms for America, which says it’s a “national movement of mothers to reclaim our culture for truth, family, freedom and the Constitution.”

Tuchi’s order punctuated an already dramatic day in Arizona, where post-election fights have put Cochise County under a spotlight. The county supervisors appeared in court Thursday without legal representation, having only secured counsel that afternoon.

The county’s attorney, Brian McIntyre, refused to represent the supervisors in the matter, having previously advised them that their action was unlawful. Next they sought to retain Bryan Blehm, the attorney who represented the cybersecurity firm Cyber Ninjas in its haphazard audit of the 2020 election in Arizona, but he declined to take the case.

Tom Crosby, one of the two supervisors behind the move to delay certification, asked the judge to put off the proceedings until next week so that the lawyer found by the board, Daniel McCauley, could get up to speed on the case. The judge refused, saying any continuation of the proceedings was “not in the interest of justice.” McCauley did not respond to a request for comment.

The judge appeared to consider simply directing the supervisors to approve the canvass at a meeting already scheduled for Friday, asking an attorney for the secretary of state’s office whether an additional one-day holdup would inconvenience state officials responsible for carrying out certification next week. The attorney, Andy Gaona, replied that a Friday approval would be acceptable if certain conditions were met.

But an impassioned argument to order the board to act that afternoon came from its lone Democratic member, Ann English. She had dissented from Monday’s vote to delay the ministerial move.

She warned the judge that Crosby intended to use Friday’s meeting as “sort of a smackdown between the secretary of state and the election deniers that he has on the agenda.” Crosby has indicated that he has concerns about equipment used in the election.

The judge, in ordering the board to convene Thursday, said such concerns were “not a reason to delay a canvass.” He found that state law “unambiguously requires” counties to certify the results by Nov. 28, unless vote tabulation is incomplete.

Crosby did not appear when the board met later Thursday to comply with the judge’s order. He said in an email that he did not attend “on the advice of the attorney for the board,” but did not respond to other questions. The other Republican, Peggy Judd, said, “I am not ashamed of anything I did.”

She said she felt compelled to vote to approve the results “because of a court ruling and because of my own health and situations that are going on in our life.”

But, she added, “I don’t like to be threatened.”

Behind the scenes, the secretary of state’s office also issued blunt warnings to at least one other county about the consequences of refusing to certify, according to emails released through a public records request.

When officials in GOP-controlled Mohave County met Monday to take up certification, the chairman of the board of supervisors, Ron Gould, said, “I found out today that I have no choice but to vote aye or I’ll be arrested and charged with a felony.”

Communications from state election officials make clear what he meant.

Kori Lorick, the state elections director, wrote in an email earlier that day to the board of supervisors that, “Our office will take all legal action necessary to ensure that Arizona’s voters have their votes counted, including referring the individual supervisors who vote not to certify for criminal enforcement.”

Ruby Cramer contributed to this report.

The 2022 Midterm Elections

Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.

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