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Arizona Republican election official sues Kari Lake for defamation

PHOENIX (AP) — A top Republican election official in Arizona filed a defamation lawsuit Thursday against Kari Lake, who falsely claims she lost the 2022 race for governor because of fraud.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer said he’s faced “violent vitriol and other dire consequences” because of lies spread by Lake, including death threats and the loss of friendships.

“Rather than accept political defeat, rather than get a new job, she has sought to undermine confidence in our elections and has mobilized millions of her followers against me,” Richer wrote in an op-ed in The Arizona Republic.

Lake is a former Phoenix television news anchor who quickly built an enthusiastic political following as a loyal supporter of former President Donald Trump and his lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. She went on to narrowly lose her own race for Arizona governor last year along with a lawsuit challenging the results.

Despite her losses in court, she continues to claim that Richer and other Maricopa County officials interfered in the election to prevent her from winning.

A spokesperson for Lake did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She is openly considering a run for U.S. Senate and is a leading contender to be Trump’s running mate in his 2024 presidential campaign.

The suit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, names Lake, her campaign and her political fundraising group as defendants. In addition to unspecified monetary damages, Richer is seeking a court order declaring Lake’s statements false and requiring her to delete them from social media.

U.S. Supreme Court precedent sets a high bar for defamation cases brought by public officials like Richer. But Dominion Voting Systems’ lawsuit against Fox News Channel over false claims about its vote-counting equipment resulted in damaging disclosures of internal Fox messages and a $787.5 billion settlement.

Richer’s lawyers wrote in their complaint that Lake has the right to criticize Richer but not to spread lies that bring him harm.

The suit takes issue with two claims in particular — that Richer intentionally had 19-inch ballot images printed on 20-inch paper, causing counting problems, and that he injected 300,000 bogus ballots. It details nearly three dozen times she made the claims publicly on social media or at rallies and news conferences.

The suit says Richer has faced death threats, including one that was prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department, and has spent thousands of dollars on home security. He said he and his wife have altered their routines and law enforcement has stepped up patrols around their home and workplaces.

“She has gone far outside of the bounds of protected free speech as guaranteed under the First Amendment and the Arizona Constitution,” Richer wrote in The Republic.