On the eve of Arizona GOP Chairman Jonathan Lines’ re-election bid, two failed GOP candidates sued him for defamation.
Former Rep. Maria Syms and her husband Mark Syms allege Lines, in speaking at a GOP meeting, wrongfully accused them of committing fraud when he discussed Maria Syms’ failed re-election bid in Legislative District 28 and her husband’s failed attempt to run as an independent against Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee.
The lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court Wednesday alleges Lines said at a Jan. 9 Legislative District 26 meeting that the Syms’ “committed fraud” in trying to unseat a fellow Republican and that Maria Syms was “convicted and she was … ordered to pay over $70,000 of restitution to Sen. Kate Brophy McGee.”
Lines went on to say he and Gov. Doug Ducey sat down with Syms and tried to convince her against her husband running against an incumbent Republican, which could put Republicans at risk of losing the Senate in the 2018 elections, according to the lawsuit.
A brief recording obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times confirms Lines made the statements detailed in the lawsuit.
A 2018 court battle involving the Syms’ was more nuanced than Lines’ comments made it out to be.
Mark and Maria Syms were never convicted of fraud in a lengthy civil court battle that started after Mark Syms turned in his signatures to get on the Nov. 6 ballot. The lawsuit also alleges Maria Syms, Lines and Ducey never discussed the LD28 race.
Mark Syms was barred from the ballot when a trial court, in a ruling that was later upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court, invalidated the bulk of signatures he gathered to get on the ballot. Attorneys for Brophy McGee’s husband — who challenged Mark Syms’ nominating petitions — argued he should be thrown from the ballot because the signatures he turned included forgeries and were an example of widespread fraud.
While a portion of Mark Syms’ signatures appeared to be fraudulent, judges throughout the court ordeal specified there was no evidence that the candidate — who employed paid signature gatherers — was involved in or aware of fraud in gathering the signatures.
In September, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered Mark Syms to pay more than $50,000 in attorneys fees. He did not have to pay restitution to Brophy McGee as Lines claimed at the meeting.
The Syms’ allege Lines’ statements on the convictions were made deliberately in order to “publicly shame” them.
AZGOP attorney Kory Langhofer said Lines corrected his statements at the same LD26 meeting referenced in the lawsuit.
“He accurately stated the facts in the end,” Langhofer said.
Lines cannot be heard correcting himself on the one-minute, 15-second audio clip obtained by the Capitol Times.
In the audio clip, Lines is asked about why Maria Syms was left off AZGOP mailers during the campaign. The man then follows up with, “was she convicted or was she accused?” to which Lines responded that Syms was convicted.
Langhofer also said the suit is a blatant attempt by the Syms’ to derail Lines’ re-election bid.
“The lawsuit is fundamentally a stunt that’s designed to affect the chairman’s re-election in two days,” he said.
Lines faces a contested race to retain the AZGOP chairmanship and is opposed most notably, by former U.S. Senate candidate Kelli Ward. Arizona Republicans will meet Saturday in Phoenix to vote.
The Syms’ are seeking damages, but do not specify an amount in the lawsuit.
Maria and Mark Syms did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The Syms’ incited a Republican civil war when Mark Syms jumped into the race against Brophy McGee, who already faced a Democratic opponent. In the general election, some establishment Republicans shied away from supporting Maria Syms, even after her husband was kicked off the ballot, because they felt her actions left the Senate vulnerable to a Democratic takeover.