Kari Lake’s Default Judgment Request In Defamation Suit Borrows From MAGA Playbook

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA - AUGUST 03: Republican candidate for Arizona Governor Kari Lake holds up a sledgehammer as she speaks to supporters that are waiting around as ballots continue to be counted during her primary el... SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA - AUGUST 03: Republican candidate for Arizona Governor Kari Lake holds up a sledgehammer as she speaks to supporters that are waiting around as ballots continue to be counted during her primary election night gathering at the Double Tree Hotel on August 03, 2022 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Kari Lake is in a tight race with challenger Karrin Taylor Robson to be the Republican nominee for Arizona Governor. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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Last week, election denier and failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake announced that she would not defend her statements in a months-long defamation suit brought against her by Maricopa County recorder Stephen Richer.

Lake’s decision to concede in court after months of spreading baseless falsehoods is simply part of the MAGA playbook: to lie in public to constituents, but to quietly admit in court that there is no evidence to back up these claims. 

Richer filed the lawsuit against Lake in June 2023, claiming that following her defeat in the 2022 gubernatorial election, Lake accused him of intentionally “sabotaging the election.” As a result of the falsehoods, Richer argued, he and his family have been the target of violent threats and “have had their lives turned upside down.”

The lawsuit details how Lake falsely claimed that Richer, a Republican, intentionally misprinted ballots as a way to prevent Lake, and other Republican candidates, from winning the election. “Defendants have repeatedly and falsely claimed—at in-person rallies and speeches, and on podcasts and social media—that Richer (i) intentionally printed 19-inch images on 20-inch ballots to sabotage the 2022 Arizona general election,” the lawsuit reads. 

During one particularly egregious episode detailed in the lawsuit, Lake not only spread lies about Richer and Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates during a January 2023 “Save America Rally” rally, but she also displayed large photos of Richer and Gates at the event to rile up her supporters against her supposed foes.

“Richer and Gates . . . printed a 19-inch image, the wrong image on the ballot, so that the tabulators would jam all day long. That’s exactly what happened. They did not want us to notice this,” she told the crowd last year, according to the complaint. 

Screenshot of a section of the defamation suit which includes a photo from the “Save American Rally,” when Lake allegedly displayed photos of Richer and Gates.

But in court last week, Lake’s lawyers filed a motion for default judgment – essentially admitting that she has no evidence to back up her ballot printing conspiracy theory, and instead is seeking to dispute damages. Lake, though, in a video on X, doubled down on her lies, claiming that the reason she won’t be taking part in the lawsuit is because doing so would somehow “only serve to legitimize this perversion of our legal system and allow bad actors to interfere in our upcoming election.” 

We’ve seen this type of silent acknowledgement from Trump and his supporters before. But the playbook is also indicative of a larger pattern in the MAGA universe, which is that the individuals who were involved in spreading election denialism since the 2020 election, are slowly, but surely, being held accountable for their actions in court.  

“Despite the maxim that justice delayed is justice denied,” said Paul Charlton, a former U.S. attorney in Arizona and current partner at Dentons US LLP, “in a very slow but methodical fashion, those individuals who were involved in espousing these lies about the 2020 election are slowly having to pay the piper.”

Lake is going to be one of those people, experts say, the only question now is how much she’ll have to pay, Charlton said. She’ll follow in the footsteps of Rudy Guiliani, who in December 2023 filed for bankruptcy after a jury’s verdict required him to pay two defamed Georgia election workers $148 million dollars for his lies about the 2020 election. 

“I don’t think anyone likes to see justice move so very slowly and have to deal with appeal after appeal, delay after delay, but eventually these things catch up with them, and that’s what I think we’re seeing now,” he added.

This particular strategy of lying in public while fumbling in court, explained Mark Kokanovich, former federal prosecutor and attorney at Ballard Spahr, in an interview with TPM, is not an effective one. For one, some of Lakes’ more informed supporters may see her claims for what they are — lies without any basis in reality. 

“But when they get to court and have to prove those things or have to defend themselves, they have no evidence to offer to support the claims that they’re making to their supporters,” said Kokanovich. “And I think the more informed supporters realize that.”

The question now is how much of a deterrent Lake’s case will be for other election deniers. 

That really depends on the size of her monetary judgment, according to Justin Levitt, a professor of law at Loyola Law School. Lake’s lies, he said, like most other election deniers, have been a fundraising strategy, and so if the liability costs outweigh the fundraising gain, that might prevent her and others from continuing to lie. On the other hand, though, if the liability costs do not undermine the fundraising strategy “that’ll send a very different message that will resonate very differently from those who are following her model,” he said. 

For Kokanovich, the fact that Lake essentially surrendered in court is itself evidence that the election denial “fever will eventually break.” The fact that people like Lake, Donald Trump, and Guiliani, among others, have all been ordered to pay for their election lies is evidence that our justice system and our civil court system is working as it’s intended, even if it takes a while, he said.

“I think for people who are paying attention and are willing to look at the evidence and the lack of evidence, I think it is telling,” said Kokanovich. “And I have enough faith in the electorate and elections that it does make a difference.”

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Notable Replies

  1. Lake’s strategy to not defend herself from defamation charges seems like a gambit to me. The Judge should question her under oath as to why a trial on the merits should not continue.

  2. I think for people who are paying attention and are willing to look at the evidence…

    …none of whom were Lake supporters in the first place.

    Election denialism goes hand-in-hand with judicial denialism. The only honest elections are the ones I win. The only honest court cases are the ones I win. Everything else is deep state Jewish space laser stuff.

  3. PlaintiffRicher’s allegations include facts supporting a punitive damages award. There is no reason why plaintiff should be stopped from doing discovery on the degree of Lake’s evil mind and evil deeds to allow the jury to make an informed punitive damages award.

  4. This will make for excellent ads for her opponent in November. “Kari Lake admits she lied.” Etc.with quotes from the legal hearings.

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