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Kari Lake wants to avoid defamation trial. Stephen Richer says that proves she lied

Stephen Richer Kari Lake
Stephen Richer (left) and Kari Lake.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake is asking a court to swiftly determine what damages she owes in a defamation suit brought by Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer rather than take the case to trial.

The case is based on statements Lake made as a losing Arizona gubernatorial candidate.

Richer filed the lawsuit against Lake and her campaign after she made repeated claims that he sabotaged the 2022 election she lost to now-Gov. Katie Hobbs.

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Lake’s attorneys filed a motion for default judgment on Tuesday as attorneys for Richer were preparing to ask Judge Jay Alderman to declare Lake in default for failing to file an answer to the complaint that was first filed last June.

So Lake, in essence, beat them to the punch by conceding everything that Richer first alleged and that she knew statements she made about Richer and the election were false.

Richer’s attorney Jared Davidson praised the filing as a victory.

“This is clearly an admission that Ms. Lake, her campaign and her Super PAC have no evidence whatsoever to back their false claims about our client,” Davidson said.

Davidson said a motion for a default judgment is a method for a plaintiff to get relief in a case when the defendant does not defend themselves in court. That is at play here, because Lake’s team unsuccessfully sought to get the case dismissed but never officially filed an answer to Richer’s lawsuit disputing the allegations.

“Ms. Lake has effectively conceded the issue of liability on whether or not she committed defamation as alleged in our complaint,” Davidson said.

Lake's attorneys disagreed with that characterization.

“It is often said that defaulting admits the allegations in the operative complaint. This is a misnomer,” the attorneys wrote.

And Lake posted a video claiming she is the victim of a political witch hunt and did not admit to defaming Richer. She claimed the lawsuit is an attempt to distract from her U.S. Senate campaign and accused Richer of weaponizing the legal process.

“Since they can’t blackmail or bribe me, they’ve resorted to filing a punishing lawsuit to try to stop me and bleed me dry,” Lake said in the video.

But Richer said the implications of the motion for judgment are straightforward.

"It is now official that she accepts that all of that is a lie,'' he said. "She has been lying the entire time, we have told her she has been lying the entire time."

And he said Lake knew she was lying, because judges in other election cases she had filed challenging her loss had found there was no basis for either the claim that the ballots were deliberately mis-sized or that there had been fraudulent ballots inserted into the final count of the election that Democrat Hobbs won by 17,117 votes.

"And now she officially will have a judgment entered against her for lying about me in connection with the 2022 election,'' Richer said.

Richer is seeking financial damages and an order forcing Lake to delete false and defamatory statements.

And in admitting that she acted with actual malice, Lake opens herself up to having to pay punitive damages. These are awards designed not so much to compensate victims but to punish those who are liable.

That could involve subjecting Lake to depositions to answer questions about her decisions to make the comments.

All that evidence eventually would be presented to a jury that would come up with a number.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been corrected to show that Lake requested a default judgment.

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.