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ASU's First Amendment Clinic files motion to drop lawsuit against Kari Lake

The motion to dismiss from Lake cites the state law against "strategic lawsuits against public participation," or SLAPP lawsuits


Kari Lake speaking during a press conference in front of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU's downtown campus on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake is attempting to get Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer's defamation lawsuit thrown out, and she has ASU's First Amendment Clinic by her side.

On Monday, Aug. 21, Lake, along with Lake for America, the Save America Fund and ASU's First Amendment Clinic, filed a motion for Arizona Superior Court Judge Jay Adleman to dismiss Richer's defamation lawsuit against Lake.

Richer's lawsuit aims to hold Lake "accountable" by seeking personal financial compensation and forcing Lake and her groups to declare their statements regarding him and elections are false and that any material that includes Richer be taken down.

Richer's original complaint was filed in June, saying Lake has repeatedly and falsely accused Richer of causing Lake’s electoral defeat, including by claiming that Richer, a Republican, sabotaged the election to prevent Republican candidates, including Lake, from winning. 

At in-person rallies, speeches, on podcasts and social media, Lake claimed that Richer intentionally printed 19-inch images on 20-inch ballots to sabotage the 2022 Arizona general election, as well as inserted 300,000 "illegal," "invalid," "phony," and/or "bogus" early-vote ballots into the Maricopa County vote count, according to court documents.

Richer's lawsuit said Lake's claims were false and misleading. In his brief, he provided 34 examples, primarily social posts from Lake's accounts, that he said were false and misleading.

Additionally, Richer claims that he and his family have been the target of threats of violence and death, and have had their lives turned upside down.

Gregg Leslie, the executive director of the First Amendment Clinic at ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, said this is what he considers a "perfect First Amendment case" because it involves a public official trying to silence somebody speaking on behalf of public concern. 

He said the case is not about Lake's correct or incorrect claims. It is rather about a public official suing someone else to "stop their speech" through a lawsuit. 

"Anyone can have their own feelings about what they think about her speech, but he definitely was trying to stop her speech," Leslie said. "That's exactly what these Anti-SLAPP laws are designed to protect against."

Anti-SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuits against public participation. 

State law says that if the defendant in an Anti-SLAPP suit is a state actor, they must prove they did not act to deter, prevent or retaliate against the plaintiff's exercise of constitutional rights. In this case, the burden of proof is on Richer, not Lake, to keep his defamation lawsuit from being dismissed. 

Dr. Joseph Russomanno, a scholar and ASU professor teaching mass communication law, says he understands both sides of the issue and wants to emphasize he understands why Leslie filed the motion.

"On one hand, there is a long history, especially in First Amendment law, of attorneys standing up not so much for a client, but for principle," Russomanno said in an email. "Here, the principle is free speech, specifically the right to criticize a government official." 

He also said there are times when the client's character should be considered.  

"It's not uncommon for an attorney to refuse to represent someone for various reasons," Russomanno said. "That can include the character of the client or previous behavior. Here, we have someone who has aligned herself with enemies of the same system of democracy that she now seeks to utilize to her benefit."

Edited by Alysa Horton, Walker Smith and Caera Learmonth.

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Shane BrennanEditor-in-Chief

Shane Brennan is the Editor-in-Chief at The State Press. He was a sports and politics reporter, before becoming the editor of the politics desk. He has covered local and state politics for the Arizona Capitol Times and Cronkite News.

Angelina SteelExecutive Editor

Angelina is the Executive Editor at The State Press. She directly oversees the digital production and engagement teams, as well as the magazine, multimedia, and digital departments. She has the final editorial say of all things published by the organization.

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