Lawyers for Maricopa County say a judge shouldn’t force the county to expedite a records request filed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s team.
Lake has indicated that she’s seeking documents that could change the result of last month’s election, which she lost to Democratic Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs.
What Lake is trying to do amounts to “jumping in front of the line by filing a lawsuit,” attorney Joseph Branco said at a hearing on Dec. 1.
And he told Maricopa County Judge Scott Blaney that he shouldn’t set a precedent that someone asking for public records can demand they be produced faster simply because they want the records as fast as possible.
“County agencies receive requests from inmates who believe the records they’re going to receive will lead to their liberty; from activists who are concerned about things like animal welfare or homelessness that believe that getting those records are going to move the needle on public policy decisions; news reporters who want records as promptly as possible… in order to meet deadlines,” Branco said.
“I don’t think that there’s an exception for records that have to do with elections,” he added.
Arizona law requires public bodies to “promptly” provide public records – a vague standard that has led to litigation in the past.
Lake’s lawyer Tim LaSota argued on Dec. 1 that the “promptly” standard means different things in different situations – and in this situation the county should move more quickly than normal.
“The Attorney General’s race (was decided by) 510 votes, so I think that objectively most people would say, ‘Well, these records are more important in terms of producing them more promptly,’” LaSota said.
That was a reference to the closest statewide race in this year’s general election, in which Democrat Kris Mayes beat Republican Abe Hamadeh by just 510 votes, or 0.02%, a margin that will prompt an automatic recount.
LaSota’s comment also underscored the connection between Lake and Hamadeh’s legal strategies. Both candidates have disputed the outcome of their races and several attorneys, including LaSota and Kory Langhofer, have at different times worked on behalf of both candidates.
At issue in the Lake case is an 11-item records request that LaSota submitted to Maricopa County on Nov. 15 seeking a wide range of election-related records.
One of the items is: “All public records related to voters casting drop-offs (sic) ballots that were rejected due to voter submitting another ballot that day including names and all available contact information for these electors.”
Another is: “All public records regarding any commingled ballot.”
“These records are necessary for Plaintiff to determine the full extent of the problems identified and their impacts on electors,” a complaint dated Nov. 23 states.
The request overlaps heavily with documents that attorneys for Hamadeh, including Langhofer, sought through discovery in a separate case.
LaSota said on Dec. 1 that he’s hoping Blaney will order the county to turn over the records “in a finite amount of time.”
One potential reason for urgency – which wasn’t explicitly mentioned at the hearing – is Arizona law surrounding election contests.
A formal legal challenge to an election must be filed within five days after state officials certify election results and Lake has indicated that her legal team is preparing an election contest.
State certification is expected to happen on Dec. 5, but could be postponed until as late as Dec. 8.
That means there’s not much time left for Lake’s lawyers to gather any evidence to include in a legal complaint.
The information Lake’s team is asking for “loses not all of its value, but a lot of its value in an election context pretty quickly,” LaSota said.
Even so, the lawyers could potentially file the election contest and bring additional evidence into the case later. That’s essentially the strategy that Hamadeh’s lawyers are pursuing – though that case will need to be refiled after a judge dismissed it on procedural grounds earlier this week.
Branco indicated that he wants Blaney to dismiss Lake’s lawsuit and the judge asked him to file a motion to dismiss by 5 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 5.
Blaney set an order to show cause hearing for 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 7.