Republican Rep. Paul Gosar and two GOP state representatives must pay more than $75,000 for filing a defamation lawsuit against a Democratic lawmaker “primarily for the purposes of harassment,” an Arizona judge ruled.
Joining forces with Arizona state Reps. Mark Finchem and Anthony Kern as co-plaintiffs, Gosar sued the Grand Canyon State’s Democratic Rep. Charlene Fernandez in Yuma County Supreme Court last year. Fernandez had joined 41 Arizona lawmakers in asking federal law enforcement to investigate whether they had an involvement or participation in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Dated Jan. 12, the letter was signed the day after Kern’s term of office expired.
Gosar, Finchem and Kern sued a little more than a month later on Feb. 26, 2021.
In a 6-page order, Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Levi Gunderson noted that Fernandez “had the right” to make her concerns known to law enforcement.
“Plaintiffs brought their claim without substantial justification, meaning that it was groundless and not made in good faith,” the order states.
For the judge, the trio’s lawsuit had signs from the start that it was not a serious defamation complaint.
“It very much appears that a significant portion of the contents of the original complaint and the first amended complaint were written for an audience other than the assigned trial court judge,” the ruling states, alluding to the lawsuit’s references to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The judge noted that even the second amended complaint contained “wholly irrelevant” riffs on political issues like “open borders.”
“The Court finds that Plaintiffs’ lawsuit against Defendant was brought for an improper purpose, having been filed against a political opponent primarily for purposes of harassment,” the order states.
Despite finding that the parties’ disputes over the events of Jan. 6 were “reasonably in conflict,” the judge noted that Fernandez’s First Amendment defenses were “clearly dispositive.” The judge dismissed the lawsuit in April.
Gunderson imposed a total award of $75,616.20, consisting of $ 75,000 in attorney fees and $616.20 in costs.
“The court finds that such fees/costs should be awarded against all three plaintiffs, who should be jointly and severally liable for the entire amount awarded,” the order says.
Though attorneys representing the Republican politicians cited their obligation to “zealously” advocate for their clients, the judge noted that the Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct removed references to that descriptor since 2003.
“Arizona attorneys are expected to be competent and diligent but are not expected to be zealous,” the order states. “This is an extremely important distinction.”
Fernandez did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Neither did a representative for Gosar, who was one of three Republicans that far-right activist Ali Alexander cited in a since-deleted Periscope video about his plan to put “maximum pressure on Congress.” Gosar reportedly sought — and was denied — a pardon from former President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Gosar also successfully defeated an effort to disqualify him from public office under the 14th Amendment’s “insurrection” clause.
Read the order, below:
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